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'Sourcing and training of capable seafarers remains a big challenge'

Monday, January 09, 2017

After having spent almost three decades in the maritime industry, Dr Sanjay Bhavnani presently occupies the position of Director at Mumbai based and India’s leading ship management company, MMS India Limited (MMSI) promoted by a Japanese Shipping Company, Meiji Shipping listed on Tokyo Stock Exchange. MMSI recruits highly skilled Indian merchant navy officers across specialized cargo ships across the globe. Dr Bhavnani, a well-acknowledged expert in crewing and seafarer training nurtures a unique holistic perspective based on his close interaction with seafarers, shore staff and other industry entities. In conversation with ADC, Dr. Bhavnani spoke on a variety of issues including MMSI's plans, challenges, and the current shipping market in India.

How is 2017 shaping up for the company?
Our company's philosophy is to have a long-term orientation, and so our fleet continues to expand at a sustainable rate. To cater to this, a larger human resource is to be be added on very soon at all levels. Over the past few months, we have attempted to diversify to scale up our operations, and are prepared to take on the management of more vessels of all types. We hope that these attempts will be met with success before long.

What is your biggest operational challenge now?
The biggest challenge, which is in fact across the ship management industry, continues to be the sourcing, training and retention of competent and capable seafarers who can ensure that the obligations of the vessels they sail on are satisfactorily met at all times.

What is your view on the current state of the shipping industry? Do you see a revival this year?
The industry continues to be in a state of uncertainty, suffering from an oversupply of ships and inadequate trade. There are certain sectors within the industry though, such as oil and gas tankers, which are relatively better off.

However, trading strategies such as spot charters and time charters may be the differentiating factor here.  A booming market may present opportunities that are more profitable but even a relatively downsized market can have enough movement to allow some ship owners to align their strategies and generate profits.
Would you say that your retention rate is satisfactory?
We are fortunate to have a high retention and are grateful to seafarers for reposing their faith in us. On our part, we always strive to have a fair, transparent and regulation-compliant work culture in line with our long-term strategy. We believe that a win-win situation is the only way partnerships can be forged for mutual sustainable benefit.

What is your message for young cadets?
Young cadets should join this industry keeping in mind the demands that will be imposed on them at a physical, mental and an emotional level. To be successful, they must have the mental preparedness and commitment to deal with these challenges. An adequate orientation to a life at sea is necessary before embarking on this career.

Do you think the Government of India’s focus on inland waterways and coastal shipping will offer new business opportunities to MMSI?
It is heartening to see the Government’s focus on the maritime sector. Such development will assist the entire industry; I am sure that our company will also be able to utilise the new opportunities that come along, particularly those that are in alignment with our present business operations.

As an industry veteran, do you regret that the Indian youth are not too aware of career opportunities in the merchant navy today?  
The required awareness is surely less than what it should have been. However, this is a global phenomenon and is probably because of the fact that the shipping industry is largely invisible and silent, and suffers from a negative media image; it is in the news usually for the wrong reasons.

The contribution of the industry should be highlighted, as it is the lifeblood of global trade. To harness the rich human resource in this country we should continue to spread the word about the rewarding opportunities that exist here. Recent attempts to do this have made a difference; awareness is definitely higher now.

How do you see MMSI growing in the next five years?
We see a fair amount of diversification in our business operations and an overall fleet expansion. Our plans are to include other types of vessels too. India continues to be an important location for our global business and we hope to make it strategic in times to come.

What do you think of the quality of maritime educational infrastructure in India?
The quality of the maritime education and associated infrastructure is one of the best in India, as is the calibre of faculty and their ability to transfer knowledge.

Training of new entrants is always one of the most important elements and we can address this effectively as long we keep in mind that this affects the future of the individual and the industry, both.

The seafaring profession has given rise to many other sub-industries, of which training is also one; the objective of increasing Indian seafarer jobs should remain foremost.

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