National Maritime Day 2021: Indian Shipping industry is a vibrant force in the global standing, say experts

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April 05, 2021 4:33 PM

Indian shipping has come a long way since Independence and accounts for about 9 per cent global seafarer professionals.

National Maritime DAy, indian Navy, ndian Ocean Region, Project Sagarmal, Indian maritime infrastructure, pre-historic Gujarat to Mesopotamia, DG shippingThe day of 05 April is marked each year as India's National Maritime Day since 1964 to celebrate this event. (PTI Image)

In the pre-Independence era, all the sea routes were controlled by the British, however, Scindia Steam Navigation on 05th April 1919 commissioned the first Indian owned ship “SS Loyalty” for the maiden voyage from Mumbai to London. The day of 05 April is marked each year as India’s National Maritime Day since 1964 to celebrate this event. Indian shipping has come a long way since Independence and accounts for about 9 per cent global seafarer professionals. About fifty percent of the global oil passes through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

“Coastal Communities and Merchant Guilds across time and regions of the sub-continent have defied proscriptions to cross the seas and earn rich treasure to Venture Capital enterprises, funded interestingly by temple treasuries. The Sovereign was just an enabler. Shipbuilding itself has been a superior skill set of the otherwise subaltern coastal communities along the Indian Coast,” former spokesperson of the Indian Navy Capt (retd) DK Sharma, tells Financial Express Online.

History records maritime connectivity from pre-historic Gujarat to Mesopotamia, Arabia and East Africa. The Kalingans’ harnessed the monsoons to launch maritime voyages to Bali and most of SouthEast Asia. The Chola influence, mercantile, cultural and naval reached Far East Asia.

Project Sagarmala for Maritime Infrastructure

Project Sagarmala has been culled out from the National Perspective Plan (NPP) launched in 2016 for infrastructure, coastal berth, fisheries harbours and skill development projects, and the projects are under various stages of implementation by Central Ministries, State Governments, and Port Agencies etc.

“The cargo traffic at Indian ports is expected to be approximately 2500 MMTPA (Million Metric Tonne per Annum), whereas the current cargo handling capacity of Indian ports is only 1500 MMTPA. The roadmap charted to enhance the Indian port capacity to more than 3300 MMTPA by 2025 to meet the growing demands. About 506 projects in various States and Union Territories have been identified and are being monitored by the Minister of State in consultation with State Maritime Boards and State Governments. Another Project Unnati to improve the Operational Efficiency has been also launched to improve the efficiency and productivity for 12 major ports. Project Unnati has about 116 schemes at all the twelve major ports,” Milind Kulshreshtha, Strategic Analyst and C4I expert, tells Financial Express Online.

The SCI has a very important role to play as it owns and operates about one-third of the Indian tonnage. “Further to improve efficiencies in functioning the SCI, has been accorded “in-principle” approval strategic dis-investment,” Mr Kulshreshtha says.

What do experts say about National Maritime Day?

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Milind Kulshreshtha, Strategic Analyst and C4I expert, says, “In India, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways is dedicatedly involved with the handling of all major port infrastructure, mercantile shipping and waterways and this responsibility includes Shipbuilding and Ship repair activities, National Waterways and Inland Waterway Transportation (which was originally called Department of War Transport when established in 1942). Since Independence, the Ministry has evolved policies and programmes so as to make the Indian Shipping industry a vibrant force in the global standing. It is estimated that India possesses approximately 14,500 km navigable waterways. However, the maritime sector is highly complex and India still has a long way to go before it reaches the desired standards as seen in places like Singapore etc.”

Pandemic Crisis

According to the C4I expert, “DG shipping had a difficult time handling the disturbed manpower and shipping cycles during the pandemic. Numerous stringent precautionary notes were instructed to the shipping companies to evolve a Disease Management plan to handle the ship borne COVID outbreak as per regulations promulgated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from time to time. The standard protocols like mandatory underwater repairs and machinery overhauls had to be waived off due to shortage of manpower in the repair docks, and multiple ships were left at anchorage for long durations.”

“The shipping services are primarily demand based and sensitive to international trade. Many short-term changes had to be adopted by the shipping due to decrease in maritime trade, delayed customs and port clearances and escalating freight rates. Overall, the port economy too saw a major slowdown. The passenger liners and Cruise ships faced quarantine and containment issues and the business was adversely affected. The long-term solution which has emerged during the pandemic crisis is to implement Digital transformation in the Shipping and Port industry and make the Supply Chain Management systems robust. The digitalization effort is primarily cyber-physical in nature and shall be susceptible to cyber-attacks. To counter such a situation, on 01 Jan’2021, IMO’s adopted Resolution MSC.428 (98) pertaining to the ship’s Safety Management System (SMS) for cyber risk,” Mr Kulshreshtha, C4I expert, states.

According to Capt DK Sharma, “India is today the ‘preferred security partner’ and the ‘first-responder’ in any maritime crisis in our area of responsibility. Collaborative competence building is a win-win approach for Indian maritime growth with a visible partnership across the oceans.”

“The naval growth including warship construction has been the fore-runner of today’s “Aatma-Nirbharta”. Port infrastructure development through ‘Sagarmala’ and ‘Unnati’ is set to transform the nation through `Blue-Economy’ sector. The Indian Navy itself is the operational manifestation of the SAGAR policy (Security and Growth for all in the Region) of the Govt. of India. Even as the pandemic hit the global canvas, Indian Navy was at the forefront through Mission Samudra Setu and Mission Sagar in multiple avatars to enable Indians to travel back to their motherland. As 2021 heralded the vaccine for the pandemic, the Indian Navy enabled “Vaccine Maitri” to reach across the oceans, to the world,” Capt DK Sharma concludes.

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