Driving sustainability in ship recycling: Blue MBA participant Prashant Widge

Academia, Maritime Education and Training, News, Sales and Purchases, Technical, Technology — By on February 15, 2018 at 7:39 PM

Capt Prashant Widge.

Driving sustainability in ship recycling: Blue MBA participant Prashant Widge

Captain Prashant Widge has an unusual role for a qualified master mariner – after a fulfilling career sailing merchant ships across the globe, he is today engaged in driving sustainability in the ship recycling industry. While doing so, he is also on track to add to his CV another prized possession, a masters diploma from the acclaimed MBA in Shipping & Logistics (known as The Blue MBA) from Copenhagen Business School.

Currently based in Mumbai, he heads the responsible ship recycling programme for one of the world’s largest shipping conglomerates, AP Moller-Maersk, and at the same time studies intensively for the MBA.

The apparent contradiction between commanding vessels at sea and overseeing their responsible demise is resolved in his mission to help create safe and environmentally sound recycling conditions at the demolition yards, which must comply with all applicable labour and human rights.

In January 2016, AP Moller-Maersk appointed Capt Widge with the intention of creating a new Ship Recycling unit aimed at creating sustainable options through engagement on the ground. Since 2009, the respected corporate has had a policy specifically designed to ensure end-of-life ships are dealt with responsibly. Until May 2016 this was feasible only in a limited number of yards in China and Turkey. Steady improvements and several audits at upgraded facilities in Alang led to the group’s decision that responsible recycling could be accelerated at Alang, if the engagement was made in timely manner.

This way, the group felt it has ensured further development of financially feasible and responsible recycling options to the benefit of Alang and the entire industry.  The group is committed to work with the yards for the long haul: India historically has been handling the largest volumes of retired ships by percentage of gross tonnage. At the 10 km-long Alang beach, more than 7,500 merchant ships have been delivered to over 150 breaker businesses since 1983.

Active engagement in improving practices was deemed the better option than waiting for regulations to enter in force, says Capt Widge, who has a leading role in the Corporate Sustainability department in the Transport and Logistics division of AP Moller-Maersk. He firmly believes that “real engagement on the ground by investments through internal and external resources leads to sustainable changes.”

The leverage of the Danish-headquartered group is critical in this long-term project

For more than two years now, Capt Widge has been tasked with selecting, engaging, and ensuring the upgrade of facilities in the Alang area, and to “key account manage” the many stakeholders. “After all, the ship-recycling industry is an integral part of the shipping markets and our value chain,” he says. Over the last two years, AP Moller-Maersk has sent six container ships, including the first two – the 4,300 teu Maersk Wyoming and Maersk Georgia, to Alang in effect as its “admission ticket” to India.

What the company terms its excellent collaboration with ship recyclers has reaffirmed its confidence to invest continuously and engage in making improvements. The direct involvement of the prestigious company has been a catalyst for action which years of external criticism by campaigners have failed to achieve – although opponents remain fundamentally unhappy with the system of beaching.

All the same, more than a dozen ship recyclers have taken up the challenge to review their practices, upgrade yards, innovate and implement changes since the initiative began. “This is precisely what we aimed for and the only way any industry can possibly change,” declares Capt Widge.

The AP Moller-Maersk intervention is a fillip for supporters of the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, which seeks to set minimum standards. The convention was adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2009, but has yet to gain sufficient formal support from member states and the shipping industry to enter in force.

The AP Moller-Maersk standard goes beyond the minimum IMO requirements through stringent interpretation of the convention and demanding criteria on labour and human rights, anti-corruption measures and checks on sub-contractors. Tough contractual obligations with supervision by the company and a robust audit regime form the cornerstone of its programme.

Despite the progress, Capt Widge warns that there is still work to be done: “What really takes time to change is the safety behaviour.”

His 17 years of experience in the shipping sector is an ideal fit for this challenging role.  He started as a deck cadet on dry bulk carriers and container ships in 2000 and soon felt an urge to move into what for most was an uncharted territory – gas carriers, considered a highly specialised trade, but with fewer job opportunities and overall slower growth prospects.

By the age of 28, he had not only thrived in this sector but went on to be one of the youngest officers taking command of a fully laden merchant gas tanker, an ethylene carrier. In 2012, he stepped ashore as a nautical superintendent, to join the Marine Standards team at Maersk Line. Here, he was far from being a desk-bound consultant. Throughout his moves in this role, he was keen to systematise the approach of handling emergencies at sea and providing seamless expert guidance to the ship’s master by integrating safety of life, security and environmental considerations into decision-making.

A hands-on risk assessment and management specialist, Capt Widge is a certified accident investigator, a lead auditor of the International Register of Certificated Auditors and a vetting expert with experience in handling vessel-related claims and other insurance matters.

From tackling a cabin fire, to averting an oil-spill scenario in US waters, he has led from the front.

Capt Widge began early in the discipline of safety culture. With a Degree in Nautical Sciences from one of India’s most prestigious universities, Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, he implemented the Behavioural Based Safety Programme at one of his previous organisations.

The Blue MBA is a two-year course arranged in modules that enables candidates – who all hold senior positions in their organisations – to fulfil in parallel all their commitments.

Capt Widge appreciates the nature of his current coursework with the Blue MBA because he says it allows him to address specific challenges that his employer is facing, for instance by means of the MBA’s Integrated Strategy Project (ISP), which is the final thesis that all participants must submit.

The ISP “is a direct return on investment for the employer as I will analyse a specific issue and provide recommendations,” he says.

“I value the fact that this education does not stop at the classroom but continues through relationships that are built with professors, classmates and alumni of the Blue MBA programme. The alumni network is one of the strongest – definite social capital for both near and long term.”

“Through the vast network of classmates and alumni, the MBA programme is facilitating access to expert advice and valuable business contacts from around the world,” he says, “that will help me enhance in terms of strategic outlook whilst continually addressing business challenges.”

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