Thursday, June 09, 2016

On The High Seas

Peter Cremers, the executive chairman of the Hongkong-based Anglo-Eastern group talks about shipping, and other matters, while on a recent visit to Kochi

Photos: Peter Cremers by Albin Mathew; an oil tanker 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a Friday morning, the staff at the Anglo-Eastern Ship Management Company, at Kochi, are dusting the top of tables, adjusting chairs, and ensuring that everything is spick and span. This is moments before the impending arrival of the Belgian-born Peter Cremers, the executive chairman. He is on his first visit to Kerala.

The Hongkong-based group has 26,000 employees on its rolls and controls a fleet of 600 ships. “Our job is to manage a ship,” says Cremers. “We don't own it, nor the cargo. We provide the technical know-how, as well as the staff. In other words, we are the world's largest ship manager.”

The majority of the staff are Indians, followed by Filipinos, Chinese and Ukrainians. The company has training centres in Delhi and Mumbai, as well as Manila and Odessa. In India, a one-year training is given for engine, deck and electrical officers. Thereafter, they work as a cadet for two years, before they are absorbed into the company.

But Cremers admits it is not easy for people of different nationalities to work together. “It is important to understand and respect each other's cultural backgrounds,” he says. “If you think 20 individuals, on board a ship, with ten nationalities, are all the same, then you are wrong. Part of our business is to understand how a Filipino or an Indian or a Chinese works and thinks. We never forget that we are not employing robots, but human beings.”

And these human beings did go through several life-threatening situations, because of the threat of hijacking by Somali pirates a few years ago. But the threat has disappeared. “The moment we were allowed to put armed guards on board, it has proved to be a deterrent,” says Cremers.

Apart from the dangers from hijacking, accidents do take place on board. “A ship is a relatively hazardous environment,” says Cremers. “Everything is made of steel. You can trip and break a leg. There are heavy weights being moved around all the time. A major accident can also take place, But, having said that, we have the best safety record of any company, with less than 1 per cent of accidents in a year. We are always conducting safety programmes on board. It is one of our major drives.” 

Incidentally, some of the vessels which the company handles include oil tankers, container ships, dry bulk carriers, and pipe-laying barges.

Meanwhile, when asked to provide leaderships tips, Cremers says, “I have made sure that I have, around me, very competent people. You cannot do everything yourself. You should also be a good person, a fair boss, and ensure that the company has a singular vision, which has to be transmitted to every employee.”

Asked about his vision, Cremers says, “It is very simple: to be the best in the world. In our industry we want to be at the top. And I believe we are.”

Interestingly, the company has won several Compassionate Employer awards. “We always do right,” says India operations managing director Captain Vinay Singh. “We follow the book. We never cheat anybody. We try to help people. We run an NGO in Kochi, which is helping the local orphanages.”

Adds Maneesh Pradhan, senior general manager, “If any employee is in need, we go beyond the rules. And try to help them, especially, if they have a problem within their families. We provided relief during the Chennai floods by starting a food centre, 24/7.”

Asked about his 24/3 experience in Kerala, Cremers says, “I liked it. Kerala gave me an European feel, because of the churches and the greenery. It has its own character. At some places, I thought, 'Am I in India?'” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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