Operating the coastal ships

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The moment you create a Directorate or an Authority for coastal trade, you kill half of it to start with. It has to be operated in a very personalized and totally non-formal manner. We were on a ship which operated near international voyages to Bangladesh ports and Indonesian ports like Belawan and to Kuwait in the west.

We had crew accommodation in the aft and on a raised aft quarter deck, we had a wooden box like structure with holes for ventilation where onions and potatoes will be stored. On the top of this box, we had laid a good mattress on which I and others will relax in the afternoons after lunch. One day, I was sitting there and saw the Bosun walking in with a cardboard box with the photo of a baby. I asked, “Bosun kya radio laya”, he replied , “Nahin generator ka rubber ring laya”.

He was carrying rubber rings for our generator engines from our “ paan bazaar office” nearby. Can you believe it? Will anyone do it today? Bosun was short and sturdy but without any fancy dress and no show off whatsoever. He was a straight forward, hard working, and honest man from the Andamans. Our owner used to come to the ship every morning after “Fazr Namaz” when the ship used to be at KPD Calcutta. He was such a gentleman that he will not come up the gangway to embarrass myself and the captain ( at times we were late risers). We would inquire with Bosun, what was needed for the ship (deck, engine, saloon all together).

He will note down the requirements from the Bosun and will then proceed to the office. During this period, he will also enquire if any problem exists or everything is functioning smoothly. All items will be delivered same afternoon and there was no need for any formal requisition etc. Two crew members will go with the bags and buy provisions like fish, meat and vegetables by paying cash. They will carry these commodities to the ship by themselves.

During Ramadan period, we partly discharged at Chittagong but they shifted us out for the balanced cargo to be discharged some days later on rebirthing. We used HSD for generators and MDO for Main Engine. HSD became short and we needed to bunker more and so myself and the captain called the owner and he said, “I will send money but you will not get oil because the agent will keep it against disbursement so he authorized us to mix MDO and HSD and come upto KPD Calcutta. We used the mixed oil on generators by cleaning filters frequently. Immediately on berthing at Calcutta, our truck of HSD was waiting. The owner personally thanked us and put some cash in our pockets which we distributed judiciously among the crew.

On one such voyages, a shipper contacted the master for requesting to carry some palm oil drums on deck. Captain consulted me ( we were good friends) and we agreed for it. We did not accept any cash. All freight was forwarded to the owner as shippers offered us dinner. It may be difficult to function in this manner today (we need to find similar type of men). But we surely do not need to revert again to a high cost and bureaucratic mode (look at the IRS survey fees and the cavalier manner in which they dish out COC to you, totally not bothered about the economics and sheer practicality) which will defeat our aim.