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Monday, May 27, 2002

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Good intentions, wrong ways

N. K. Kurup

No doubt, IMF's intentions are well meaning. Shipping is not getting the priority it deserves and any effort in that direction is welcome. First of all, IMF itself does not have the clout that can be leveraged to achieve the objectives. This is not to undermine the IMF's efforts. The men who spent years at sea know the importance of seafaring and other maritime activities.

THE name sounded great. Indian Maritime Foundation, IMF for short. An invitation from IMF last month for a media briefing on shipping industry aroused interest and curiosity. The occasion also coincided with the celebration of the National Maritime Day.

The Pune-based IMF, promoted mainly by retired Navy and Merchant Navy officers, wanted to promote shipping and other maritime activities. Undoubtedly, a noble idea!

The Foundation announced a "strategy" for popularising shipping. It was so relevant as ship-owners had been crying about the "poor status" given to shipping in the Government's list of priorities.

But the earnestness and the seriousness with which the IMF is pursuing its strategy was felt when a second invitation announcing a "maritime media blitz" was received last week.

It was revealed that every month IMF will hold a meeting with the media to discuss a selected topic.

The idea, according to former Major-General Hari Krishna Kapoor, the brain behind the media blitz, is to educate the public on the importance of the maritime activities through the media.

The Foundation will release an analytical report on one domestic shipping company every month and the response from the media will be conveyed to the company concerned.

There are other plans too: Regular interaction with the Government and various maritime organisations in the county, organising seminars and workshop on important topics, and so on.

Significantly, Major Kapoor and his "chaps" have been able to rope in Indian National Ship-owners Association (INSA) to sponsor these events.

The first event of the "media blitz" was sponsored by Great Eastern Shipping Company Ltd. The release giving the background of the company also said, "On the firmament of Indian shipping there are very few bright stars. Undoubtedly, the brightest among is the Great Eastern Shipping..."

Tolani Shipping will sponsor the next event. Then will come the turn of Varun Shipping and Essar Shipping.

No doubt, IMF's intentions are well meaning. Shipping is not getting the priority it deserves and any effort in that direction is welcome. But how far IMF can achieve its objectives is something that remains to be seen. First of all, going by the industry views, IMF itself does not have the standing or the clout that can be leveraged to achieve the objectives.

As far as shipping industry is concerned, there is little that IMF can do what INSA cannot. INSA itself has recently started a big-budget campaign to boost the industry's image.

Educating the media as being planned by IMF is unlikely to achieve the desired results.

This is because the basic information about a company or organsiation is easily available. What is not available is the timely information on corporate decisions.

IMF can persuade their sponsors to be more forthcoming on corporate developments that will go a long way to change the perception of potential investors into shipping and that of public at large.

As for the dissemination of information on industry developments, the best thing would be to announce them by INSA or IMF, by calling a press conference or by issuing press releases.

This is not to undermine the IMF's efforts. The men who spent years at sea know the importance of seafaring and other maritime activities.

Being a maritime nation, a strong merchant navy is important for the country to remain competent in international trade.

As the saying goes, "... whoever commands the sea commands the trade, and whoever commands the trade commands the riches of the world..."

Seafarers are "nice guys." Like sea, they are large hearted; like the wind they are strong and courageous. They are intelligent and wise. IMF shows they are also good PR men after retirement.

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