Jose Thomas

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WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
Thursday 26th August, 2010



     

 

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Dear Friends, I hope all of you are enjoying reading my posts. Continue reading….

Everybody wants to succeed. I have not come across anyone who said no to success. Now, what is success? Success is not something that comes your way nor is it something that is available on a book shelf. Success is only a culmination of the result of one’s actions. If one has to succeed, what is it that you should do? You need to go for it. You need the attitude of taking an opportunity that comes your way. In today’s day and age, I have seen lots of people who get into depression and are almost on the verge of giving up, blaming it on God saying, “I am going through a bad time” or “Its shani dasha (astrologically inopportune time)” and so on. I believe the God who created us is kind to all. I don’t think he has any stipulated time to give us happiness and sorrow. Blaming our bad times on God is only an excuse.

While one is praying to find solutions, there could be an opportunity knocking at your door and sometimes, you ignore it. That call is a call from your creator. However, sometimes you pay no heed to these calls.

I want to write something about an opportunity that came my way which brought me success.

As I learnt more about the shipping business and gained more experience, representing various shipping lines, I simply enhanced my knowledge in shipping. I had many ships of different flags calling the Cochin Port under my agency, which included handling of cargo (import and export), crew change, repairs, bunkers (fuel) and so on. Every day I used to be in the port while my ships were loading and discharging and went home only after the Port Trust labour disbursed. It came to a stage when, from a distance I could get a feel of the cargo. I learnt more about spices, tea, coffee, metal and so on. The experience gained was all free because of my inquisitiveness and hard working nature.

The Deputy Conservator of the Cochin Port called me one day and asked if I could meet him in his office. I said “Yes” immediately as I sensed there was some opportunity. I was soon sitting before the Deputy Conservator. The subject was a Chinese vessel that was towed into Cochin by the port authorities due to engine failure within the territories of the Cochin Port. As per general maritime protocol, a vessel in distress seeking the help of any port must be provided assistance. Once a vessel enters a port it is mandatory (even today) that she must have a husbanding agent. A husbanding agent is a person or an entity that takes full responsibility of the vessel from its safety to the catering on board. The name of the vessel was New Mandarin.

For this vessel, the port had intervened and nominated a company based in Cochin to become the agent. The Deputy Conservator explained the whole story to me. The agent who was nominated was fed up of handling the vessel due to non-cooperation from the ship owners. The ship owners had simply abandoned it. The agent began to get into financial difficulties because it is the responsibility of the agent to supply fuel, feed the crew and pay the port charges as and when bills are raised.
So, the objective of the Deputy Conservator was to find another agent. He tried to provide this opportunity to someone like me to see if this difficult situation could be converted into an opportunity.

I heard him out and promptly told the Deputy Conservator that I will take up the offer of being the agent. Accordingly I gave a guarantee to the Port Trust and took over the vessel after settling the dues of the earlier agent. Thus I became the agent of this abandoned ship lying in the moorings of the Cochin Port.

The Captain was Chinese with no knowledge of English along with two or three Philippine deck officers and Burmese crew – altogether about 22 of them. They were all used to certain life style staying on board, using the little dinghies to go outside to eat, drink and come back to the ship as the earlier agent just kept plying them with money. The crew was never paid their salaries. They had back-wages to be settled for about 13 months. I don’t want to get into the intricacies of Maritime Law here. When a vessel is in distress and if there are back-wages payable to the crew, as per law, the Captain has the first right to even dispose of the vessel, recover the dues and then make the balance amount available to the person who has the first right to the cargo. In this case, the Captain knew that the back-wages will be settled one day as he was aware that there was valuable cargo on board. The cargo consisted of railway wooden sleepers, loaded from Malaysia to be delivered to Port Sudan. The cargo was consigned to Sudan Railways.

I have written earlier of my relation with the tea trade in Cochin (Maldives Shipping days). I did enter the tea business by being an exporter of tea to Sudan. For this reason, I used to frequent Khartoum very often to meet with the Sudan Tea Company, a state owned enterprise.

The New Mandarin was becoming a threat to the Port Trust as there was no maintenance at all and the monsoon was fast approaching. The condition on board was pretty bad. I boarded the vessel, met with the Captain and crew, updated myself and decided to act quickly. I saw a clear opportunity
here – the knock that I heard and gave heed to. I knew there was something worthwhile in this. The vessel valued approximately 30 to 40 crores with cargo onboard worth close to 100 crores. I knew that abandoned vessel won’t stay abandoned for too long because somebody will come forward.
I technically became the custodian of the vessel.

I started to study maritime law by going to the library of the Cochin Port even though there was very little material available on abandoned vessels. I learnt the intricacies by reading up and consulting with people who knew this subject. Today I can confidently tell you that I can participate in any discussion relating to maritime law.

So here I am, technically the guardian of the vessel with protection from the High Court. Technically I was the ship owner and I convinced the crew to cut down on certain luxuries including switching off the air conditioning and providing fans as I wanted to reduce the cost of diesel consumption. Now my goal was to reach the cargo owner because the ship owner was absconding.

I contacted the Embassy of Sudan in Bombay and informed them of this cargo. They immediately reverted saying, ‘this is our cargo – something that we were looking for’. I then met the concerned officials and the Sudan Government gave me the authorisation to salvage the cargo, re-load it on another vessel to be delivered to Sudan. I told the Sudan Government about the money I had invested and the money that I would need for this operation along with my remuneration. They very promptly funded me.

I went to Khartoum for final discussions and I remember they issued me a cheque of $100,000 drawn on the Bank of Tokyo. I was so excited to have this cheque in my hand (one of the largest dollar cheques I had seen in those days). This was in 1982. I used this money to settle the
back-wages of the crew and release of the cargo from the captain. The captain had also taken a stay-order from the High Court with the condition that the cargo can be released only after the back-wages of the entire crew and himself were settled. I towed this broken down vessel, chartered two Maldives Shipping vessels, discharged the cargo, re-loaded it and delivered it to Sudan Railways.

I saw the opportunity, took the challenge as something that triggered my vision to succeed, executed it, delivered it and all parties were happy. I was suitably rewarded by the Sudan Railways too.

There is a lesson to learn here. Never complain, never blame it on God, and never say “I am going through a bad time”. Instead, listen to the knock on your door called “opportunity”, take up the challenge, and go forward.
Good Luck!

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