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Shipping hit by diplomatic crisis between Denmark and India

The diplomatic crisis between Denmark and India – triggered by weapon dropper Niels Holck – is having an increasing impact on the Danish shipping industry, especially shipowners such as Torm and Clipper, with major organizations in Mumbai.

Photo: Manish Swarup

Danish shipping companies with organizations in India are touched by the diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The crisis was triggered by the case of Danish citizen Niels Holck, who participated in a 1995 operation in which weapons were dropped into West Bengal. Last summer, The Eastern High Court in Copenhagen refused extradition of Niels Holck for prosecution in India, stating there was a risk he could be subjected to torture. In response, India has, among other things, cut down on the number of Danish visa applications being processed.

This has caused major administrative problems for many Danish shipping and shipping-related companies active in India, one of the fastest growing countries in the world.

“The scope of the problem has increased recently among our members, which is why we’re going to bring up the matter with our Indian contacts,” says Jan Fritz Hansen, vice president of the Danish Shipowners’ Association. This will be done as part of the dialogue between the EU countries and India concerning the country’s refusal to have armed guards on board ships, which is causing problems in relation to maritime guards:

“But this case (the Holck case, ed.) is completely beyond our conceptual world and sphere of influence, and we will have nothing to do with the actual case. But we have a history of positive cooperation with India within the maritime sector, and we have great appreciation for India’s efforts in, for example, the fight against piracy,” says Jan Fritz Hansen.

Five week visa application

Torm press officer Jakob Risom confirms that the shipping company is experiencing administrative difficulties in relation to its Mumbai setup, but stresses that Torm does not wish to engage in a discussion of the diplomatic quagmire between Denmark and India, but “we note that the crisis is causing problems in relation to the issuance of visas:”

“Right now, we’ve experienced that it can take up to five weeks for a business visa to India to be issued. This means we have to plan far ahead when employees from our Danish offices are to visit our offices in Mumbai. We regularly send employees from the Danish offices to India, as it’s obviously necessary for our business that our employees can meet across the borders,” says Jakob Risom.

The Mumbai setup

Torm employs approximately 80 people in Mumbai, and the shipping company’s Indian offices administrate around 1400 Indian mariners. Most of the Mumbai setup comes from Torm’s acquisition of Indian OMI back in June 2007 (together with Teekay, ed.), where they took over 26 product tankers, while Teekay took over the oil tanker ships. The total price was USD 1.8 billion for the 50/50 acquisition between Teekay and Torm.

Torm’s global crew organization is overseen from the headquarters in Hellerup, Copenhagen, while the administration of Indian and Philippine mariners is being overseen locally from the offices in Mumbai and Manila. The shipping company employs approximately 1400 Indian and 1200 Philippine mariners, in addition to 300 Danish and 100 Croatian mariners.

Clipper employs around 20 people at the shipping company’s office in Mumbai, primarily within fleet management. Clipper has recently experienced, like other Danish companies, that the processing time for visa applications has been longer than usual, says Me Christensen, press officer at Clipper.

The Niels Holck case

Indian authorities have so far refused any attempts at reaching an understanding of why Denmark, in accordance to Danish legislation, cannot extradite the Dane Niels Holck. The Indians believe the Dane aided a terrorist organization in 1995 by smuggling weapons. Holck does not deny this.

Last summer, in 2011, the district court and the high court both refused to extradite Niels Holck for prosecution in India, and the Director of Public Prosecutions stated that the principle of the case was not important enough to bring it before the Supreme Court.  

The Indian authorities have officially revoked an agreement of visa freedom for Danish diplomats and Indian authorities, and India has made it clear to the Danish ambassador in New Delhi that it intends to lower the priority of the official cooperative effort in the Danish-Indian joint commission (which also includes the participation of certain Danish ministries) that was established by the Indian and Danish ministers of foreign affairs in December 2010. India has also made it clear that all inquiries from the Danish embassy will henceforth have to go through the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: New contacts

According to the Ministry’s website, Minister of Foreign Affairs Villy Søvndal made the following statement on August 16th 2012:

“The Danish government respects the independence of the Danish courts and the Danish judicial system. This is a basic and invariable principle of a democracy and the rule of law here in Denmark. At the same time, I understand India’s disappointment that Niels Holck will not be extradited for prosecution. The Danish-Indian cooperation was going very well, and was progressing at a rapid pace - at the benefit of India and Denmark both. I have previously discussed the matter with my Indian colleague, and will reach out to my colleague again in an effort to bring the cooperation back on track as soon as possible. A cooperation that has developed much and which continues to possess great potential, and the continued development of which holds great advantages for both countries as well as their business sectors.”

415 ships scrapped in India since 2011

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