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Food is the most important aspect of our daily life, we just can’t ignore it’s importance for our existence. In our shipping industry it is one of the key factor which keeps our crew onboard healthy and motivated so as to face the day to day hardships. Through the history of shipping food and water has been of vital importance, without these two none of the vessel could make long voyages. With modern technologies and improvements made in storing techniques of food we can now store ample amount of food onboard but still the skills of onboard catering staff remains vital to serve hot, healthy, nutritious and balance food to all and ensure that hygiene levels are maintained at its best.
Back in the 90’s it was still a challenging and innovating concept of having a third party service provider take care of the onboard catering and housekeeping management which had been traditionally handled onboard. Apart from the cruise liners/rigs/platforms there were hardly any other type of vessels which had any professional backup team ashore help them deal with this activities which at times were very time consuming. However this gave us the perfect opportunity to do something unique in the industry and help our seafarers onboard by reducing this excess work load and at the same time improve upon the present catering and housekeeping management onboard. With this thought the concept of providing catering and housekeeping management onboard merchant vessels was conceptualized, thus under the brand name “Seachef”, We began our operations on 1st April 1994 with a single merchant vessel with a single nationality and today we serve close to over 180 vessels with over 16 nationalities onboard. Much of the success of this journey goes to BSM senior management who continues to guide us even today and to the initial team members of Seachef who stood to the test and proved the value/benefits in the overall concept which we carry on till date.
Over the initial years we faced a stiff resistance primarily from the seafarers onboard who felt that as a third party service provider our sole intention was to mismanage the overall catering and housekeeping management onboard to make money by cutting down on quality and quantity of food served and with us in charge there won’t be any control over the sanitation/hygiene levels onboard. It was a fear which we all have when we venture into something new and it was well understood by us. However we were able to win over these apprehensions by showcasing the benefits of our services in the long run, we streamlined the catering purchase process, introduced professionally groomed/trained hospitality catering and housekeeping staff who understood their day to day job requirements and were able to handle their jobs much better, we trained these catering staff further to take over all the paperwork from the senior officers onboard and relieve them to attend to their more important operational/navigational work onboard. Furthermore the back office team from Seachef started negotiating with suppliers worldwide directly and plan the supplies in accordance to vessel’s requirement, they further started interacting with the suppliers for all supply logistics required to ensure the supplies reach on time, had less quality problems and was as per the order. Traditionally all purchases were made on cash, it had its limitation which were completely curbed with the introduction of making payments on credit to all suppliers by Seachef, furthermore all the analysis and statistics/reports required by vessel’s principals/managers were handled by Seachef base office directly.
Over two decades of serving a lot of third party clients and our own pools of internal clients we strongly belief that whether we like it or not the catering and housekeeping management onboard will need a lot of support from a specialized team ashore just any other function of the shipping industry. Throughout the industry there is a growing concern for the health and hygiene related problems that many vessel face onboard as most of the time people overlook these aspect over the cost factor. New regulations are being drafted which seeks immediate improvement upon the current state of the catering and housekeeping management onboard and it’s high time that we seriously consider to be part of this change management attitude. As one of the few companies BSM started early in acknowledging the need to uplift the overall catering and housekeeping management onboard and started its own specialized catering arm “Seachef” to help the people onboard to live a healthy and hygienic life onboard. Seachef team consist of Hospitality professionals who had considerable industry experience to deal with the overall catering and housekeeping management in line with the international standards, they started focusing on the training of the catering staff joining the vessel as they were the key to make the necessary changes onboard. Regular trainings were carried out at internal/external training centers at Manila/Mumbai/Shanghai by industries best trainers. Apart from the upliftment of the skills of the catering staff Seachef started focusing on planning the provision/bond supplies at the most economical ports, standardize the purchase process so as to keep a balance of stocks that are actually required for a voyage period, this helped reduce the overstocking of supplies and wastages which amounted to monetary losses. It further kept a strong vigil on the menus being prepared onboard so as to safeguard that all the nationalities onboard are satisfied with the food and at the same time kept a close watch on the day to day consumption of food group so as to ensure that health aspect onboard is not neglected. Seachef always believed that food should be prepared fresh onboard and there should be minimum dependence on ready to eat products, rather the catering staff should be able to make everything fresh from the food supplies onboard. By encompassing strict international benchmarks and having a quality management system in line with ISO norms it established a strong operating procedure both for onshore and offshore operations which helped it achieve a greater success in its day to day operations.
With technological upgrades in to IT we too at Seachef are trying to walk shoulder to shoulder upgrading our systems and procedures, although we had initial success as early as 2004 but we could not carry on with the infrastructure it sought for having such a developed tool onboard, neither we had the qualified or trained staff to handle the new tool. However we now have almost completed a new ERP module in line with our group ERP system that will further enhance our system, help our catering staff onboard in their day to day work and also help the crew onboard, supply partners, principals/managers ashore with a variety of information on day to day basis on a click of a button, thereby reducing manual time and effort and help us increase our efficiency. There will be many more areas wherein we need to improve upon our services and we are very much keen to improve them by incorporating industry best practices and help the people onboard live a healthy and safe life onboard, close to their homely atmosphere. No doubt it will take a lot of effort from our part but with the help and support from our crew onboard, our catering staff and team ashore we will no doubt be looking forward to these challenges. Seachef’s main motto is not to earn or maximize its revenue but to add value to the overall services provided by its parent company BSM and on this very principle we shall strive to make our journey forth.
Seachef acknowledges the present financial duress that looms the financial market and its overall impact on our various owner’s/principals/managers and supply partners but at the same time acknowledges their trust onto us for continuing to serve them or being associated with them during all these years and we appreciate their support and continuous assistance and look forward to receive the same in the coming years. At the completion of 20 years in our existence we have come a long way and this journey would not have been possible without much needed support from all our colleagues in various departments of BSM family and the crew onboard our vessels, it’s our greatest strength to be part of the BSM family and we would like to thank everyone ashore and onboard for their support and assistance in our day to day operations.