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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

WHAT IS A DHOW - Mechanics of "Sailing Vessel "**

There was the  news in the press,  of India 
banning its dhows beyond Southern Oman, Maldives.

DHOWS What ?  :    Are you familiar with this term or can visualise what they are ?? these are something well known – but name not so familiar for a south Indian, madrasi !! Dow is Dow Jones Industrial Average, one of the several stock market indices created by Wall Street Journal. Dove is a pigeon – bird family which would include 300 species. This one is quite different.

A Dhow (Arabic) is traditionally sailing vessel primarily used along the coasts of Arabian peninsula, Pakistan, India and East of Africa. They traditionally have raised hull and a sharp pointed bow and are made of wood. There are dhows with multiple sails though some have singular large sail. In case you are still to visualise this in mind think of MGR and ‘Aayirathil oruvan’ & song ‘adho antha paravai pola’ – a story based on pirates at sea and plot made to release slavery and independence of labourers by Doctor MGR, protesting against the ruler of neidhal nadu. Jayalalitha played poongodi, daughter of ruler of kanni theevu.

On 29th of March 2010, India banned the movement of its mechanised sailing vessels to the south and west of Salalah in Oman and Male with immediate effect, as there were reports of hijacking of at least seven sailing vessels with 97 Indian sailors on board. The vessels -- MSV Al Kadri, MSV Al Ijaz, MSV Faize-e-Osman, MSV Sea Queen, MSV NarNarayan, MSV Vishwa Kalyan and MSV Krishna Jyot -- were reported missing and presumed to be hijacked off the Gulf of Aden and Somalia region infested by pirates. The sailors reportedly were from Gujarat's Kutch and Saurashtra regions and were bound for the United Arab Emirates. The Navy had been warning the Shipping Ministry to bring in more regulations on the operations of sailing vessels.

The capture of the vessels was passed on through another dhow – UAE owned MV Arzoo which had a 14 member Indian compliment. There are apprehensions that the pirates could use the dhows as mother ships for waylaying merchant vessels and tankers. It is too obvious that the Country cannot provide security for all such smaller vessels also. Many a times, the boat owners flout directions and operate in unregulated manner.

For those not so familiar with maritime routes, this may sound very unusual but boats making commercial journeys into the sea have been in vogue for long. Quite often the sailing is along the monsoon.

Sailing vessels are wind powered vessels though many of them are mechanised. Larger sailing vessels also would technically qualify more of boats than ships. In our own coast, Tuticorin has been a centre for trade and pearl fishery for centuries. I am not too sure whether the first swadeshi ship launched in 1906 by the great patriot VO Chidambaram Pillai – SS Gaelia would qualify as a ship or as a bigger boat. Many mechanised sailing vessels operate from Tuticorin and go to Colombo in less than 24 hours carrying potato, onion, coal and many other cargo. It continues to be one of the very few ports of India where mechanised sailing vessels are in operation.

To simply put, a sail boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails – a large piece of cloth on top. The wind pushes against the sail and makes the boat move. The sail is attached to a mast. Some have many sails. The movement of air over the sails acts in the same way as air moving over an aircraft's wing. Just like on an airplane, air flowing over the sail is deflected and accelerated. This generates lift, which acts to pull the sail, and thus the boat ahead, but also slightly downwind. Sailing directly is sailing with the wind, faster the wind, sail push backwards against the wind – wind pushes forward. In a strong wind, it is easier to walk, run or cycle when wind blows on your back. Looks simple but aero dynamics is extremely difficult to fathom.

Boats sail at 40° to the wind and, by tacking and at times sail faster than wind. Some basic manoeuvre that sail boats perform are :

• Tacking is turning the boat so that the bow passes through the eye of the wind (or "no go zone").
• Gybing (or wearing) is turning the boat so that the stern of the boat turns through the wind.
• Heading up is turning the boat to sail closer to the direction the wind is coming from.
• Bearing away (or falling off) is turning away from the direction the wind is coming from. (certainly it is too heady to understand for me and better left to sailors and navigators).

The Indian MS Act (Merchant Shipping Act) was enacted in 1923 in line with the UK MS Act 1894. After independence, to take care of new conditions and changes that continues to take place in the shipping industry, a comprehensive legislation was passed by Indian Parliament in 1958 known as Merchant Shipping Act, 1958. All National laws having international ramifications will have to take into considerations the changes of International conventions and protocols.

Section 3(39) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1958 defines the Sailing Vessel as "Any description of vessel provided with sufficient sail area for navigation under sails alone, whether or not fitted with mechanical means of propulsion and includes a rowing boat or canoe but does not include a pleasure craft".

The Act envisages registration of all sea going vessels owned by a Citizen of India. By registering the vessel will have a Name, Official No., Certificate of Registry (much in consonance with RC of a car). The name of the vessel is to be painted along with the code indicating the Port of registry and the registration number in white colour in a black backdrop on both quarters of the vessel near the stern. Any alternations on the dimension or tonnage of the vessel or its carrying capacity has to be intimated to the Registrar and endorsed. The registry from one port to other can be changed as also the ownership or mortgagee.

Of interest to the Cargo Insurer is the fact that Sec 430 of the Act provides that for whole or any part of the cargo jettisoned on account of any abnormal weather condition or for any other reason, the owner / tindal of the sailing vessel is required to notify the proper officer after arrival at the Port and the Port Officer would make inquiry into the act.

In India, till recently, we had Marine Hull Tariff which had a special section applicable to all Sailing Vessels (Mechanised or Non-mechanised) valued upto Rs.50 lakhs. Vessels of higher value were rated independently. The Tariff imposed sets of conditions for coverage which primarily were given on CRO (cancellation returns only – meaning that there would be no refund for lay – up returns). The insuring terms were ITC – Hulls TLO (including salvage, salvage charges and sue and labour); incorporating P&I liabilities sub to cl 9 of ITC Hulls – Port Risks 20.7.87 or Institute Time Clauses – Hulls 1.10.83 which was on wider terms.

The Tariff rating was on various trading warranties, which defined the area of operation of which some were :
1. (A) Warranted Vessel employed for carriage of cargo and operations connected therewith between Suez, Persian Gulf, Pakistan, Maldives, Lakshadweep, East and West Coasts of India and Sri Lanka but not to proceed North of Visakhapatnam and South of 15o South Latitude on the East African Coast.
(B) Warranted Vessel not to be employed
a. On the West Coast of India, on the South Coast of Tamil Nadu from Kanyakumari upto and including Gulf of Mannar, Pakistan, Maldives, Lakshadweep and West Coast of Sri Lanka from 1st June to 15th August (b.d.i.) with leave to employ the Vessel from 1st June to 7th June(b.d.i.)
i. between ports in Saurashtra/Kutch and Bombay Port.
ii. between ports in Saurashtra/Kutch and ports in Suez, Persian Gulf and Pakistan
iii. between Bombay port and ports in Suez, Persian Gulf and Pakistan.
b. On the East Coast of India, North of Gulf of Mannar and East Coast of Sri Lanka from 1st November to 31st January (b.d.i.)
…………………….. and the like.

All the Fishing Vessel and Sailing vessel policies also had warranty that “ vessel shall not be employed during adverse weather conditions as may be notified by appropriate authorities”

A commoner looking at sea would think that small boats start in the morning, go for fishing and be back in the evening. Gentlemen, there is no 9-5 employment at sea and fishing vessels (smaller ones not factory vessels) do go on 3 or 5 or 7 day voyages. Once at sea, they face lot of inconsistency and returning back safely is always dreaded.

I have heard the story of a boat “Ranee of Hyderabad” built of teak and having copper hardware built somewhere in 1966 continued its operation during 1990s also. There existed ripe stories of the boat being carried away in stormy weather from Kakinada coast and found once in 24 Paraganas and in Bangladesh (or was it Burma) but with all its crew safe and that some local astrologer finding out its whereabouts using  in a betel leaf !!  Strange are the ways at sea all the time.

Hope this piece was interesting and informative !! ~if so do drop your remarks below or e-mail the Undersigned at

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


  1. wonderful sampatkumar.

    i am intrested to revive this energy saving kotia's since last three years. i travelled with this kotia from tuthukudi to kochin and enjoyed like any thing. kindly send ur mobile number i would like to talk more on this

    99402 90847

  2. Sampatkumar Sir,

    Ur article was interesting indeed very helpful.

    Sir Can U plz elaborate the differences between ITC Hull 1.10.83 & ITC Port Risk 20.7.87 ?

    Sir,I would be thankful to you for your prompt reply.
    If possible plz reply me on : ,

    Thanks & Regards
    Insurance Learner