VS Parani Personal Blog

Welcome to my BLOG. Here I will be posting articles on health and safety that interest everyone who is into the shipping industry. Feel free to register and receive regular updates. Your comments are also welcomed!

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Leading with Love

MTS logo smallWhen I joined sea as a deck cadet, I was paid a stipend equivalent to 50 US dollars a month. But then, I was 17 years old and fresh out of school. My food and boarding were free on the ship.

At that time, the rumour was that the company was going to close down, and we would not be able to complete our sea-time required for cadetship. So I made a decision to complete it all at one go - almost 37 months onboard, without returning home on leave. That way, I could appear for my third mate's exams and start earn a proper living. I joined my first ship as a boy, and returned home a man.



The 3 long years away from home were not easy. It was an old ship with a lot of work. We had to buy our own overalls and shoes. Hand-gloves were in short supply. We worked long days and nights. When we went to rest, it wasn't easy either- there was no air-conditioning. No washing machines for our soiled overalls either. When we called ports in the Middle-East, we strung hammocks on the boat deck to escape the sauna like heat in the accommodation.

Our ship would call ports in almost all corners of the globe. It was a relief after weeks of sailing. Fascinating places, rich in culture, and friendly people - though we didn't have enough money to explore and experience it all. But we had one place we could always feel at home, no matter where we went- The Mission to Seafarers.

We would go there for a couple of hours, write and post letters home (no internet those days, nor did we have money to make phone calls). We would have a drink, read some books, play a game of pool and relax a while before heading back to our duties on the ship. We would be greeted with love and kindness by the staff and chaplain of the Mission, no matter which part of the world. These trips helped ease the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue that we felt at times during our stay onboard, especially if we had been through days of sailing in stormy weather.

Even though later in my career, I was earning enough to get a taxi ride to town, I always stopped by and spent some time at the Mission. Now there is free wi-fi available, and I still see seafarers taking a welcome break from the ship. I can see the Mission to Seafarers continuing their 180 year tradition of leading with love. The Mission to Seafarers strives to meet the needs of all seafarers and their families, irrespective of faith or cultural background. Their simple mission is to care for the shipping industry’s most important asset: its people.

This year I published Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas. It's the world's first book on leadership by a merchant-mariner, specifically for mariners. It has stories, tools, and strategies for seafarers to stay safe and succeed at sea. On the back cover, and in the acknowledgement section of my book, you will read my acknowledgement to the Mission to Seafarers. Now you know the story.

I am pleased to see that the Maritime Cyprus Conference taking place now in October 2017 has nominated the Mission to Seafarers as the first charity, furthering the mutual campaign to improve seafarers’ welfare worldwide. I met with Chaplain Ken Wiseman at the Limassol Mission to Seafarers two weeks ago to present to him a copy of my book. I am also donating one copy for the library of each Mission centre around the world.

I hope that someone like me, like I was twenty-five years ago has a moment of love and peace when he sips his drink and reads my book at the Mission.

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The Mission to Seafarers website: https://www.missiontoseafarers.org/

Every purchase of Golden Stripes helps sustain support for The Misson to Seafarers.

Publisher website: https://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes.

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1849953147

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Do we still need books?

Golden Stripes Cover small“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa

You see hundreds of posts on social media (including this one), covering a wide range of topics- from leadership lessons from…., ‘5’ points to remember….., ‘secrets’ to ……, to videos on a wide range of topics. There is a lot of information passing through our screens every day. Do we still need to read books?

In this self-serving article, I’m going to share ‘3’ reasons why you should read books.


In no particular order, the most influential books are the scriptures, the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Tripitaka, Guru Granth Sahib, Hebrew Bible, and so on. Billions of these books have been sold, helping people understand what it means to be human, and distinguishing right from wrong. These are the bestsellers of all time, and I believe they will retain this status. Of course, how much has been implemented by people in their daily lives is another topic for discussion altogether.

Books such as The Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler and Common Sense by Thomas Paine influenced the masses to change the course of history, for better or worse.

The Republic by Plato, Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Arthashastra by Kautilya, and Daodejing attributed to Lao-Tzu put moral, political, ethical and economic conduct of people in practical terms.

Elements by Euclid, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Isaac Newton, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei were among the milestones of mankind’s scientific discovery.

Books pass it on. Samuel Smiles observed the success stories of inventors like James Watt and published the book Self Help in 1859. The book inspired Sakichi Toyoda to work hard and excel at his work. So much was the book’s influence on him that it is on display under glass in a museum at his birth site. Sakichi in turn inspired his son Kiichirio Toyoda to build the Toyota Motor Company. Their management model in turn, inspired dozens of books on ‘The Toyota Way’ and ‘Lean Production’.

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Books have no boundaries. The Kingdom of God is within you by Leo Tolstoy inspired Mahatma Gandhi to follow a path of non-violence to lead India’s campaign for independence. 'Autobiography of a Yogi' by Paramahansa Yogananda helped Steve Jobs realize the value of his own intuition and used it as a guide to self-realization.

The role of books throughout history in unquestionable. Which brings us to the question- how relevant are books today when you seem to have all information on Wikipedia and social media?

When I was growing up, we had no television or internet. The only window to the outside world was books. We had a great town library and I often read two 200 page books a day during vacations. I still have a boxed encyclopedia set that my father got me over 35 years ago.

I still invest in books more than in clothes and TV subscriptions but that’s me. My daughter has access to the internet but she has developed a healthy reading habit through her school and what she sees at home.

At the same time, we also spend considerable time on social media and we read many posts- insights, travel records, recollections- many of them truly fascinating and entertaining. But I can frankly say, and I speak for myself, that very few of them have left any lasting impression.

Take this article for example. It took me 5 hours to write it based on an idea I got last evening. You can comment below if you liked it or not.

My book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, on the other hand, took over 5 years from conception to production. For research, I bought several books and subscribed to various online and print journals, spoke to scores of people, and even took a MBA program to absorb cutting-edge ideas on leadership. More time was spent on developing original mental-models, and to have leading industry experts review the book. And the results have been worth it- though I wrote the book mainly for merchant-mariners, reviewers from the armed forces, doctors, airline pilots and university professors have recommended the book for anyone who wants to lead anything, anywhere.

What I learnt when writing my own book is that it’s a much more intense and thought-driven process. A book distils the author’s experience and wisdom, and if he or she is articulate, a pleasure to read. With the current information overload, traditional publishers are very selective about which books they agree to print. They want to be sure that the book will sell at least a few thousand copies. These days, more than ever, when you hold a traditionally published book, you know you are getting great value between the covers. That is why, this article is free to read, and a decent book costs at least as much as a large pepperoni pizza.

Charlie "Tremendous" Jones says in his book (I’ve also heard Tony Robbins say it in his podcasts) “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Invest your time carefully to choose both. My approach is that every book and every person I meet knows something that I don’t, and there is much to learn. Truly enough, there have been books at several points in my life which have changed my outlook in life and habits for the better.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself or someone else is a good book.

Captain VS Parani is the author of Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas (978-184995-314-6, Whittles Publishing). Originally from the Andaman Islands, he now lives in Cyprus with his family. He is currently writing the sequel to Golden Stripes, and can be reached at parani.org.

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Port or Starboard? Decision Making on the High Seas

008 smallThis article appeared in the June 2017 edition of the esteemed Nautical Institute journal Seaways.

The model first appeared in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani.


What's called a difficult decision is a difficult decision because either way you go, there are penalties.’ - Elia Kazan



A reefer ship with its cargo of frozen fish is due to leave berth the following morning. The weather forecast predicts 55 knot winds outside the harbour. The ship’s anemometer currently shows about 20 knots. Could the wind speed increase by more than twice during the night? The ship must unberth at daylight if they are to make the scheduled ETA at the next port. On the other hand, the rough seas outside could severely damage this small ship. The Captain is thoughtful as he mulls over what he should do next.

Onboard a container ship in the Mediterranean, a Junior Engineer reports to the Chief Engineer that the fuel tank which was nearly full yesterday is down by two-thirds. The Chief Engineer is busy writing his noon-report. He wonders with a bit of irritation why the sounding has reduced. Has the Junior made an error; it wouldn’t be the first time? Should he investigate, or should he complete the report first?

Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the Chief Officer of a chemical tanker gets a call from the Captain asking him when the tanks would be ready for the next loading. If the crew went into the tanks now, the cleaning would complete sooner. But the tanks are not yet fully ventilated. There could still be flammable-hazardous gases inside. He nervously debates sending the crew in, or telling the Captain that cargo operations could be delayed.

The challenge:
Mariners may have to take several such decisions every day. The right decision will take the ship and its crew safely to the next leg of the voyage. The wrong action could lead to disaster!

But why do people make wrong decisions?
What are the strategies mariners can adopt to ensure they have it right, first time and every time?
And how can a company management assist in better decision making onboard ships?

All of us want to make right decisions. But decision making is a complex science, while also being a key leadership skill. And decision making is as much a rational algorithm as an emotionally loaded process. Understanding the mechanics of decision making can help seafarers pick the right methods while steering clear of the dangers. Decision making requires clarity of thought, preparation and practice.

Decision making mindsets
Mariners first need to acknowledge that decision making isn’t easy. Next, it is important to acknowledge that the situation is changing and needs a decision. Hubris impedes our ability to register change, or leads us to conveniently assume that the new information has no significance.

Decision making is an intentional process requiring a person to overcome inertia. It is a stressful process. And we may react either with a flight or freeze response, both unhelpful for the ship. A leader can instead, tap into his innate fight response to enable him to decide. Decision making requires courage, and a leader needs a lot of it to be able to lead his ship day after day.

I recommend the decision-making template- DECIDE (Detect, Evaluate, Choose, Identify, Do & Evaluate Effectiveness). The method has been well tested in aviation and I’ve found it applicable to shipping as well. I’ve also developed a decision-making mnemonic which can help seafarers understand the decision-making process.

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To complete the story
The Captain feels that his ship will be able to handle the heavy seas. As soon as he leaves the breakwater, the small reefer ship is battered by the waves. It soon loses power and runs aground. The ship is abandoned and the crew is rescued, but not before they lose a precious life from the rescue team.

The Chief Engineer chooses to ignore the Junior Engineer’s report. The next day, they found the adjoining cargo hold swamped by leaked fuel oil. The cargo in the hold? Twenty containers of pasta, swimming in fuel oil sauce!

The Chief Officer ignores protests by some of the crew and sends them into the tanks. A spark ignites the flammable atmosphere in the tank. The resulting explosion sinks the chemical tanker, taking the lives of all but a handful of survivors.

Sadly, all these are real-life stories. With better decisions, the outcome could have been different. We are faced with several such situations every day and it is not always a straight forward choice between right and wrong. It is often a choice between a wrong and a lesser wrong or a right and a greater right, often guided by the values held in the organization and on board the ship.

And decision making is a skill that can be learnt and improved with practice.


Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani is available from Whittles Publishing (http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes), and on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)


Praise for Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas

‘As President of the Nautical Institute I believe Leadership and Human Factors will be two of the most important issues in our industry in the coming decade. Golden Stripes comprehensively addresses these issues and provides an easily understandable template for ships officers to develop a personal code of ethics and standards for their careers’.
Captain Robert Mc Cabe, FNI, MSc Mgmt. President, Nautical Institute, London.


‘When I wrote my books on decision making and meeting technique, I was thinking about life on dry land. VS Parani’s remarkable book Golden Stripes takes management into a different dimension and environment. 71% of the earth’s surface is water, and we should all take lessons from shipping more seriously. I am humbled and delighted that Captain Parani found some of my ideas useful in the context of leadership at sea’.
David Wethey, author of DECIDE: Better Ways of Making Better Decisions and MOTE: The Super Meeting.

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The Safe-Man Model

A new concept for understanding and explaining safety005 small

This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of the esteemed Nautical Institute journal Seaways. The model first appeared in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani.

Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor...Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
- Albert Einstein


I personally like the Swiss Cheese model of accident causation. This model proposed by Professor James T. Reason has been widely accepted in various industries. It helps safety professionals understand organizational factors which can cause accidents, and conversely, what is required from the management to prevent them.

But I find it difficult to explain this model to my seafaring colleagues. And I don’t blame anyone; I learnt of the model only after I had spent over a decade at sea, and then it took me some more time to gain clarity on how it worked. Even a professionally written SMS manual will lack effectiveness unless its core idea cannot be communicated to the front-line in clear, simple terms. A failure to understand safety systems often leads to accidents, directly affecting the seafarers, ships, and the environment. One need only look at the MARS and various industry reports to realize how widespread the problem is. This prompted me to find an alternative.

Understanding is the first step to successful risk management and safety leadership.

When I was responsible for the safety department of a fleet of over 100 ships, I observed that risk-safety management is a very dynamic process. Established safeguards do not guarantee safety; why else would you still have accidents with first-class ship operators. If you play by the rules, you stay safe for most of the time, but not always. There are surprises that constantly challenge you. It is as if there were devils lurking around the corner to jump you. Anyone who has been at sea would agree.

I was reflecting on this when the sneaky, vicious devils reminded of a video-game I played in my school days: Pac-Man. I tried explaining some accidents with this model and it fit perfectly. This model also explains safety-barriers, risk-assessment and safety-culture. I call it the ‘Safe-Man Model’.

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Imagine yourself and your shipmates as Safe-Men (Safe-Man 1 and 2). Before you begin any task, you have the option of considering if it is necessary to begin right away. For instance, you may ask, ‘Can we delay going on deck until the weather has quietened?’ Once you have decided that there is no other alternative but to begin the task, the game starts.
The game is to fulfil a task, such as navigating in restricted visibility, overhauling a liner, or carrying out a ballast tank inspection. If you heed all the available safety precautions, you can work in the ‘Safe Zone’, where the risks are reasonably low.

Now, three of the devils (Hazard, Risk, and Accident) are locked under barriers, while one (Unexpected New Hazard) roams free trying to catch you by surprise.

If a barrier fails, presto—the nearest devil inside is released. This means that now you have another devil to contend with. When you have more than one free devil, the ‘Safe Zone’ is no longer safe, and it’s only a matter of time before they move in for the kill.

Throughout the game you watch out for the other members of your team. Because if any of the devils catch even one of your crew (Safe-Men), the game ends.
To ensure that you have a safe day on board, give each Safe-Man a play zone with low risk, control the devils as best as you can, be alert for the free devil, and show your crew how to play to win.


Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani is available from Whittles Publishing (http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes), and on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)


'Captain Parani has keenly observed and noted what he has learnt in his career. There is a coherence and an elegance to what he offers his colleagues in this book. I am convinced that Captain Parani has more to say, more to offer, more to explain and elaborate, but he has the good sense of knowing where to stop and the dignity of telling us what we need to know’.
- Professor Sidney Dekker, MA MSc PhD, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, Griffith University, Australia; best-selling author on human factors and safety; www.sidneydekker.com.


Golden Stripes makes an important contribution to leadership at sea. By asking seafarers to focus on safety management and more importantly safety leadership Captain VS Parani ensures safety is and should be the primary concern for those charged with the safety of others’.
- Robert B Hafey, RBH Consulting USA; author of Lean Safety: Transforming your Safety Culture with Lean Management.

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Engine Room Fire: Hot Leadership Lessons from the Sea

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In 2014, a fire destroyed the Engine Room of the bulk carrier Marigold. Luckily, other than a couple of seafarers who were hospitalised for smoke inhalation, there were no serious injuries. But the cost of the fire damage would be several hundred thousand US dollars.

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