Lost your password?
Don't have an account? Sign Up

The Baltimore ship accident, the high stakes for India 

Share This News Story:

BALTIMORE : On March 26, 2024, when container ship Dali crashed into Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, United States, leaving at least six persons dead and property worth millions of dollars destroyed, the maritime and logistics world went into a tizzy.

The crash was a spectacular tragedy captured on video clip that went viral on YouTube. That it happened in the U.S. also made it one of the most high-profile maritime accidents after the Exxon Valdez tanker accident, in 1989, that led to an unprecedented oil spill off Alaska, in turn triggering extraordinary changes in maritime regulations and industry practices as well as awareness on maritime pollution.

Why the country is an industry player

Unlike in the past, India has emerged as a key player in global shipping as its seafarers man many of the ocean-going ships bringing in vital foreign exchange as remittances. Indian seafarer remittances are typically equivalent to some 15% of all foreign direct investment that comes into the country every year. Though the levers of power in global shipping as well as ship building, owning and financing continue to be outside the domain of India and Indians, India inevitably figures in maritime events as a source of seafarers and as managers of ships. So is the case with Dali, whose crew is almost all Indian.

Insurance experts have said that the Dali accident will equal or surpass the highest-ever marine insurance payout of $1.5 billion in the case of the Costa Concordia cruise vessel capsizing in 2012. The high expected payout in the Dali case is due to the loss to lives, property, and business also due to the shutdown of the busy Baltimore port. Synergy Maritime Group, the Singapore-based manager of Dali, is a company founded by and run largely by Indians but with a global footprint. With a large operation in Chennai, it employs thousands of Indian seafarers and has been an Indian success story in global shipping, managing more than 650 ships.

Though Synergy and the ship owner will not be handed a bill for $1.5 billion and the actual payout will be borne be insurers and a club of over 80 re-insurers, there may well be an eventual financial fallout for Synergy especially if it is proven that the managers had neglected in or avoided keeping equipment in proper operating conditions, in turn leading to the collision.

Synergy’s rapid rise is attributed to the trust it has earned among ship owners — that it can operate ships smoothly and safely as per regulations at optimum costs. And that trust, which has helped Indian seafarers get lucrative jobs, is in danger of being eroded.

Indian seafarers in global shipping go as Indians — representatives of a nation. And, inevitably, but unfairly, their actions reflect on India as a whole.

Costa Concordia’s captain was found to be a disgrace to the profession. His final act of ignominy was to bail out of the ship early whereas merchant shipping convention demands that the captain should be the last to abandon his ship. But, Francesco Schettino has been seen as an individual deviant, not a representative of Italians.

The interim report on the Dali accident put out by the investigators made it a point to talk about the causes of two onboard blackouts occurring in Baltimore port just 10 hours before departure. One of the causes was apparently a botched operation by a seafarer. There is a distinct possibility that the final report will seek to pinpoint botched or wrong operations by ship staff as contributors to, if not the causes of, the two blackouts that led to the loss of steering control and ship motive power, eventually leading to the collision.

This would put a question mark over the competence and certification of Indian seafarers which form the backbone of job worthiness of Indian seafarers. Most seafarers would testify to the rigorous Indian process that ensures only thoroughly trained and knowledgeable people are certified for various shipboard operations.

Swift moves

The Indian government acted quickly in the case of Dali to prevent any hasty and ill-founded damage to the reputation of Indian seafarers. It successfully impleaded India as a Substantially Interested State as per the Casualty Investigation Code of the International Maritime Organization.

Indian shipping officials are a part of the investigation on site. Before the final report is released, they will get a chance to see the report, add their comments, and contest any possible unfair damage to Indian seafarer reputation.

The pulls and counterpulls in the Dali accident are many. An act of god may not quite ensure a hefty insurance payout. Blame will need to be apportioned for that. But, at the same time, the U.S. government has taken in Indian officials in the investigation.

Soon after the accident, U.S. President Joe Biden lauded Dali’s Indian seafarers who, after losing control of the ship, promptly alerted the authorities so that they could shut down the bridge. Though it was found, eventually, that the Dali’s navigators were acting as per the instructions of the American pilot onboard, Mr. Biden’s intent was clear. He wanted to tamp down anti-Indian sentiments.

Source : The Hindu

Share This News Story: