Maritime Training On A Roller Coaster Ride

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Whoever ruled the seas ruled the shores later.  This strategic truth has equal relevance to the economic growth also.  Whoever excelled in shipping has achieved tremendous economic growth later.  During the recession days of eighties, maritime education and training was not adequately geared up to meet the boom in the shipping industry.  Considering the shortfall of seafarers globally, the maritime education was then opened to private entities.  The number of Maritime Education and Training Institutions (METIs) rose from a figure of 4 in 1998, to 128 by 2005.  Private colleges were allowed to select their own candidates in accordance with the guidelines specified by the DG Shipping.  As per statistics for 2006, they are preparing 5,293 candidates annually which far outnumbered the afloat training billets available.  In accordance with the Tonnage Tax guidelines, based on Safe Manning Document, if at all two cadets are provided afloat training on each ship, we should have more than 2600 ships to take care of the backlog, ongoing training and those passing out from METIs annually.

Opening of flood gates for private institutions, without streamlining the mods operand and visualising the forthcoming havoc, is now seriously disturbing the Shipping Administration, Shipowners, METIs and the Students alike.

To streamline and refine the maritime education, training, recruitment and placement, the DGS-India has introduced several reforms during the past two years. Meanwhile, to encounter the global shortage of officers, the Shipping and Manning companies had to adopt harsh HR tactics to man their fleet.  Discretely, poaching and rivalry emerged within their fraternity.  The METIs had invested huge sums for creating infrastructure i.e. Manpower, training facilities, class rooms, hostels, laboratories, workshops, ship-in-campus etc.  They were then asked to produce proof of tie-up arrangements for afloat training for sanctioning of seats.  In short, an Institute that created facilities for 800 students (for engine & deck) had to then hunt for ship-owners having 400 ships, to manage their colleges.  Students who have already done the courses landed up on the streets hunting for training billets on board ships.  A clandestine system or a grey area emerged for extracting more money from financially stressed career seekers for a sea time berth.

The Union Ministry of Shipping, India appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of the DGS-India on Promotion of Maritime Employment in June 2006.   The ‘Committee’, in its report published in September 2007, made several recommendations and suggestions to  (a) attract youth, particularly rural youth to join Merchant Navy (b) initiate measures to meet the shortage of officers faced by Indian Shipping (c) initiate measures for availing opportunity to meet global shortage of officers so as to create employment opportunities in India and (d) adopt strategy to overcome the stiff challenges from other countries in respect of employment share of our seamen in global market. The ‘Committee’ relied on the data provided in Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO)/ International Shipping Federation (ISF) Manpower Updates 2005.  Though the statistics could be taken for guidance, the current scenario is very different from the period under that study. An International Maritime Employers Committee (IMEC) study findings revealed in the month of September 2007, states that the worldwide officer shortage is much worse than the 2.1% indicated in BIMCO/ISF study.  The IMEC members are now searching for seafarers from Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey etc. The IMEC study indicates that Philippines was by far the most frequently criticised country for poor training standards, and Russia and other East European countries in English proficiency.  So far as India is concerned, these problems did not exist and Indian Officers have the highest retention rate, at 90%, within IMEC Members.

Establishment of Maritime University and implementation of recommendations given in the report submitted by the ‘Committee’ may take years.  Hit the iron when it is hot.  India should stand up and grab this global opportunity for their youth, before it is too late.  India has abundant talent and training facilities. The DGS-India may please stand up and apprise the Shipping Secretary to request the Union Minister of shipping to exhort the Prime Minister to direct the External Affairs Minister to order all Indian High Commissioners / Ambassadors (hierarchy!!) to host a dinner (which they do for petty reasons also) to all the ship owners in their host country and tell them ‘gentlemen if you have the berths we have the talent and training facilities’.  By the time hierarchy and protocol is in line, the scenario might change.  Since the burden of finding afloat training billets has now been dumped on METIs, to yield quicker results, it will be ideal for them to team up and market the availability of talent and training facilities to ship owners around the world.

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