On higher tides & better days


On June 25th, Day of the Seafarer, Capt. Rajesh Unni the CEO of Synergy Maritime Pvt Ltd shares the need for a complete revolution that will put India into the limelight once again as a pioneer in commercial shipping industry.

April 5th, 1919, shipping history was made when an Indian vessel SS Loyalty journeyed to the UK from India. How has the shipping industry changed in India since then?

Almost a century yet the progress is slow even though steady. A traditional, old school model of business and policy making is still in use that is not helping Indian shipping achieve its full potential. Commercial shipping in India had taken a dramatic hit compared to the earlier years when it had prospered. There are also many technological advancements happening over the world. It won’t be a surprise if Google, Amazon, and other bigwigs enter the logistics business; with digitally connected ships – Smart ships. Early adapters will have an advantage. It will help India not only be a part of the change rather drive the change and grow leaps & bounds in the industry.

India is lagging other nations in the shipping industry. What can we do differently?

A profitable business cannot be attained with ownership of ships alone or just being a seafaring nation. We need a whole supportive ecosystem. Fortunately, today we have a supportive minister who knows the nuances of the shipping business. Unfortunately, single authority alone cannot take the decision of change, other prominent figures should agree for a change.

What is the issue regarding ships having “flagged by India”?

Our biggest challenges are three-fold. Access to competitive finance, attractive taxation, namely taxes regarding shipping and seafarers working in Indian bottoms trading on the coast and Fuel prices that needs to be on par with world prices. Apart from these three, we need to develop a shipping ecosystem that includes, building modern ships, the ancillary machinery, a banking system that promotes shipping and developing human capital that not only operates ships but also in trading. And of course, one that I involve myself very much into these days, bringing in modern technology to shipping.

We need to put in a sea change in the way we see shipping. Every key player including banks, corporates, ship owner, ship managers, seafarers/sailors, shipyards, cargo owners must be brought on board and make Indian shipping great again. We must together find solutions that are cost efficient and environment-friendly, safe and be a responsible industry.

What is the quality of maritime education at present?

It’s very much reflective of the state of Indian Shipping. We have a lot to do. Young cadets are taught and trained in institutions, and they face unexpected circumstances when on the job. We should not be happy just to produce seafarers. We need high-quality talent in every field of shipping. There is great minutiae of difference between what I had learnt 18 years ago and what youngsters learn now. The shipping landscape has changed considerably; education must increase the pace. We do not need just content based skills anymore; we need to bring competent skills that define the 21st century. Students are no longer just consumers; they are creators and peer reviewers. We need creating thinking and problem-solving abilities embedded along with the changing landscape on ships. That sort of education will be powerful and create a great workforce.

Synergy is the largest ship management company in India. What are some of the challenges you face?

Ship management is a service business. The key to thriving in this business is to work the technology efficiently and have a good work force that backs up your business. India is easily the prime spot with a good amount of returns on human capital. There’s adequate skillset in India which can be procured with little or no compromise on quality delivered. The challenge is to create the next generation of logistics business model, and that does not happen by just ship owning or management alone. The eco system must work in synergy. Logistics market is indeed changing along with how we buy or sell goods. When India invests, and believes, this is important as a nation am sure collectively we can achieve results.

What is your message to aspiring seafarers?

Constant adaption is key. Technology hits one so fast; relevance can be lost the very next day. Seafarers/sailors must constantly be open to learning updating, honing their skills of problem-solving and critical thinking. Transition should never become complacency. Seafaring is still one of the greatest jobs on the planet, and that requires acute adaptation and problem-solving skills.

Students should not be considered consumerists. The education, be it in marine or other industries too, students should be perceived as tomorrow’s investment to build a better society. Businesses must be the canvas for younger cadets to be creative. Students of today when empowered will be the building blocks of a great nation. Moving forward, I feel gone are the days when one can think of having just one career. We will need to adapt constantly, and it may become a reality that one may have two or three different work profiles in one’s life. So, innovate and create the next one for yourself.

What are your hopes for the maritime industry?

As a leader in the commercial shipping expanse, it is my dream to see young entrepreneurs become ship owners. The youth should see a lucrative future in shipping and help achieve the perfect ecosystem that would help shipping flourish. I wish the younger generation would be an active part of the logistics change and bring an entrepreneurial spirit to the maritime industry. And, I hope the leaders and pioneers in this industry understand the responsibility they are weighed by and engage a lot more workforce from India and help develop the trade here.

How can a ship management company play a philanthropic role in the development of India outside the seas?

A company is successful when it is giving back its utmost to the society. Synergy as a ship management company strives to be eco-friendly and safety conscious at sea. On land, we have several social development programs that we can proudly call our own. We have a personal stake in Integrated village development. We have helped communities achieve their development agenda via various programs such as sanitation, education, jobs girl child welfare, agriculture, and alternative source of energy. Our aim is to build a network of such self-sustained village models, and we are working closely with the national committee on rural development methods. On a personal side, since my parents were themselves cancer patients, my heart is in spreading cancer awareness. A lot of lives can be saved by creating awareness and improving our testing standards. I am happy to be a part of the Cochin Cancer trust that is driving such initiatives in making a systemic change.

Synergy Marine Group is an integrated ship management brand with seamless operations in multiple key maritime centres globally. Founded in 2006, Synergy is today one of the most trusted, respected and leading ship management company across the maritime industry. The Group has achieved this distinction in a short period since its inception.

The Group has its worldwide headquarters at Singapore; chosen for its key location and business-friendly culture. The Group is well-represented globally with fully functional offices in India (Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, Kochi and New Delhi), Hong Kong, Philippines (Manila and Iloilo) and in the USA (Stamford). Each of these offices is geared to meet client requirements and provide in-time support and services. Currently, we operate over 130+ vessels under full technical management, maintained by more than 5000 qualified and dedicated staff.

We offer comprehensive tailor-made vessel management solutions in a transparent, ethical and cost-effective manner. We also provide a full suite of high-quality customized management services, including vessel technical management and engineering, crew training and management, procurement and logistics, insurance and risk management as well as vessel information technology, through our proprietary software vessel management system.

About Capt. Unni

Capt. Rajesh Unni is a master mariner with more than 25 years of experience in the shipping industry. He holds a degree from LBS College of Advance Maritime Studies Research, Mumbai. He is the co-founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Synergy Marine Pte. Ltd. and Global United Shipping (S) Pte. Ltd. Driven by his vision to provide world-class services based on openness, trust and reliability, Captain Unni founded Synergy Maritime Pvt Ltd in 2006. Under the capable leadership of Captain Unni’s, Synergy has built a reputation for reliable service and a commitment to safety and client satisfaction.

Synergy started with a contract to manage four ships for Nissen, a Japanese firm and has now steadily grown in rank. Currently, it operates a growing fleet of 130 vessels for 40 clients with a global workforce of 5000.Capt. Unni also serves as a founder and trustee of Synergy Trust, a charitable organisation in Chennai that provides underprivileged children with access to education and works in collaboration with several non-profit initiatives. Capt. Unni is also an avid marathoner, sports enthusiast and mountaineer.

Source: Synergy Marine Pte.

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