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Monday, 13 June 2016


QUALITY OF CHINESE SHIPS & CREW MEMBERS We tend to imagine the Chinese as being ten feet tall. It is also true that the greatest strength or weakness of a nation is its people and their fundamental character. If that be so, we, too, are somewhat less than ten feet tall. And yet, we do enjoy comparative advantages and these are not inconsiderable. Indeed, we would do well to concentrate upon our comparative strengths, namely, our 'capability' (mostly intangibles such as superior training, professional skill, organisation, innovativeness , frugal infrastructure-development, cultural sensitivity and consequential regional acceptability, etc.), rather than expend undue time and effort bemoaning real or imaginary comparative shortfalls in terms of 'capacity' .SOLDIER VS SOLDIER ,ARMY VS ARMY Warhip versus warship, I would confidently bet upon the Indian Army, While I have no experience about PLA Navy personnel or of their ships, I've interacted with Chinese Merchant Seamen and their officers since 2000. I share my experiences with you. I expect the personnel of the PLA Navy would generally be drawn from the same manpower pool as are those of the Mercantile Marine, therefore the following lines may hold some relevance. I've sailed on board a Hong Kong flag bulk carrier (Trading worldwide) which had PRC crew and junior officers. Since 2003 I've been attending on board ocean going vessels calling at Australian Ports. A large number of them are manned by the Chinese Officers & Merchant Seamen, flying both PRC flag and Flags of Convenience (FOC). I've loaded Alumina on close to 500 ships, as the ships’ Port Captain/ Loading Master. About 60% of these ships had Chinese Officers & Seamen. Of my personal experience of the Chinese built ships and Chinese seamen, I can say: VESSELS. • The build quality, metallurgy, workmanship and design of the vessels are indifferent. • The user friendliness and quality of the ships' documentation is poor. • It is usual to find a two-year-old China built ship that in terms of appearance and material state looks more like a five-year-old ship, or even older. • The Chinese Yards have a long way to go before they come anywhere near the Japanese Yards or even South Korean Yards; which are the other big players in the market. DRY DOCKINGS. • I have sailed on a Chinese built bulk/general cargo carrier that at the time was six months old. • The vessel had a Warranty Defect List which resembled a mini encyclopaedia. • In one of the first voyages, I sailed from Xing Gang, China to Vancouver BC, Canada. North Pacific in January can be pretty rough, although not quite as much as the North Atlantic. As expected, we did run into rough sea conditions. The effect on the ship however was extreme; all our inflatable life rafts were washed overboard, our rescue craft became a tangled mess and early one night our 'S band' radar scanner came crashing down on the bridge wing. When we got into relatively calmer waters I inspected the ship and noted that flexing had caused wide cracks on the hatch coamings (Port & starboard) of one of the forward holds of the ship. • As for the accommodation, all drawers in my cabin were out and slid from one end to the other of the cabin, each time the vessel rolled. The steel filing cabinet of my office worked loose from the bulkhead and battered the office bulkheads on all sides. • We touched a minor Canadian port before Vancouver and received new life rafts and rescue boat. • On reaching Vancouver the ship was inspected by Port State Control and was detained for being un-seaworthy as well as debarred from loading her intended cargo. Local workshops together with a Naval Architect attended on board for repairs. In the Naval Architect's opinion, 'the ship's foundations were unsound'. It was a sad commentary on a six-month old ship. • Due to very competitive rates provided, a large number of ship owners and operators dry dock their vessels in Chinese Yards. • I once dry docked a ship in a Yard at Qinhuangdao (North China). • The Chinese workers are poorly trained, equipped and motivated. • It is not unusual to find that that some steel renewal in a tank has been only partly welded, or ballast piping has gaps or worker’s items like gloves or cotton waste has been left inside a tank to be sucked into the suction valve, or the paint work is poorly executed without adequate surface preparation. They lack work ethics. • It is natural for the Australian surveyors to assume that vessels coming straight after dry docking will be in a good material state. That simply isn't true for the vessels that dry dock in China. In view of the above: • Are the warships competently built and are they fitted with quality weapons and sensors? Do they function as they are intended to? • Are they maintained, up-graded and re-fitted professionally and competently? PERSONNEL. • The Chinese Seamen to my mind represent the real China, unadulterated and undiluted. • Their competence and professionalism leaves a lot to be desired. • Their sense of responsibility and duty is poor (On board PRC flag vessels) and just tolerable (On board FOC vessels). For example, on board a ship which is provided De-rusting machines in Australia by the owners, for de-scaling the cargo holds’ tank tops, the Chinese seamen mistreat and misuse the machines and cause them to breakdown within the first twelve hours. Thereafter without completing the job and without informing their officers/ supervising staff they just go to bed. These are national traits and are seen on board ship after ship. • The gap between the officers and the crew members is very narrow. I routinely see, the deck crew sitting down in the Ship's Office and smoking and chit chatting with the Captain and the Chief Officer. This doesn't happen on board ships manned say by Filipinos, East Europeans, Indians, Egyptians and Turks. It is simply unthinkable on board the ships manned by the Greeks and South Koreans. • As can be inferred, this adversely impacts the officers' authority and in turn the ships' running. • I've seen a large number of PRC flag vessels that have only one mess, which is used both by the Officers and the crew members. • On FOC ships, where there are separate messes, the stewards do not serve the officers. The accepted practice is to place foods in plates (Steel with compartments, Udupi restaurant style) and put them on the tables. • Before ships call at various ports it is common for various concerned personnel (Stevedores, shippers and inspectors) to check the Officers & crew nationality. In Australian ports, as I'm sure it is in the other ports around the world, the persons enquiring have their fingers crossed that they don't hear the 'C word'. • Their standard of ships' upkeep is poor. • Their hygiene and housekeeping is extremely poor. Eating or drinking something on board a Chinese vessel can be very injurious for one’s health. • As regards the on board toilets, the lesser said the better. • The officers and crew social skills are poor. The officers peep over inspectors' shoulders to read their notes; they often pick up an inspector's note book when they think they're not being observed. They routinely smoke in the presence of port officials. They argue with inspectors on their ships receiving adverse comments. • The personal hygiene of officers and crew is poor. Every single officer and seaman has bad breath. • They're generally shabbily turned out. In view of the above: • In terms of training, motivation etc. I would presume the PLA Navy personnel wouldn't be very different from their cousins in the other navy. • So while in photographs, the Naval Officers & Ratings may appear squeaky clean with dazzlingly glamourous uniforms, are they indeed as good? • Can the officers and men maintain, sail and fight their ships competently and professionally? Formidable as the PLA Navy may seem to be, are they really as good? That said, the Chinese are also reputed to be a devious lot (Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.). They hold in contempt the nations they can push around. Therefore, they need firm handling. Gen. Sundarji's actions at Sumdorong Chu/ the Namka Chu river and George Fernandes’ actions when he held the Defence Portfolio are relevant. PRC is a very insecure state too. They go hyper on the travel plans of an eighty-year-old monk as also on hearing a petite Taiwanese lady speak

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