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India’s potential in maritime training:Providing seafarers to the world

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If India can create a vast talent pool of professionally qualified and technically trained maritime personnel it can become the world’s largest provider of seafarers.
If India can create a vast talent pool of professionally qualified and technically trained maritime personnel it can become the world’s largest provider of seafarers.

Jose Paul

As on January 1, 2008 the world trading fleet was made up of 50,525 ships with a combined tonnage of 72,82,25000 gross tonnes. The world fleet is registered in over 150 countries and the world wide population of seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships is estimated to be in the order of 466,000 officers and 721,000 seamen. The largest provider of seafarers by far is the Philippines, with a 28 per cent share of the world’s crew.

Around 3,00,000 Filipino seafarers are employed on international trading ships which include 77,000 officers. Their remittances accounted for one-fifth of the $16.4-billion remitted to the Philippines by workers overseas in 2008. The Philippines supplied about 30 per cent of the world’s 1.2-million fleet personnel and their annual remittances to their home country account for $2.6 billion.

The Russian Federation is the second largest provider of seafarers, followed by Ukraine, China, India, Indonesia and Poland. At present, 27,000 officers and 55,000 Indian seamen are employed on Indian and foreign flag ships and this constitutes only 6 per cent of the global maritime manpower. India should be able to enhance its share from 6 per cent to at least 20 per cent.

Further, the 29 per cent share of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) region is dwindling rapidly, with young people in those countries not interested in a sea career; this presents India yet another opportunity to exploit to its advantage.

largest provider

A recent report of Drewry Shipping Consultants, London, assessed the current shortfall of officers in global shipping fleets to be 34,000, against a requirement of 498,000. Moreover, based on Drewry’s fleet growth projections and assuming officer supply continues to increase only at current levels, the report predicts that by 2012 the officer shortfall will have risen to 83,900. An industry estimate assesses that about 400,000 seafarers and 45,000 new officers would be needed to man the 10,000 vessels seen to join the global merchant fleet in the next three years.

How is that the Philippines, a country situated in the western Pacific Ocean, with about 7,100 islands, land area of 3,00,000 sq km and a population of about 100 million — comparable to Maharashtra — is able to have a 28 per cent share, whereas India, with a population of over 1,000 million and a great maritime tradition, has a much lower share of just 6 per cent?

What special talents and attributes do Filipino officers and seamen possess that make them more attractive to global shipping industry than Indian seafarers? It is claimed that Filipinos have a natural mariner’s instincts and always work cheerfully despite months of separation from their families. They never show that they are homesick. Filipino seamen are reported to work with dedication and discipline, they are hard-working and flexible, reliable and loyal and are willing to work for lower salaries than what is sometimes promised.

They are reported to be fluent in English, highly trainable and adaptable to changing environments, have good problem-solving abilities and a positive attitude to make friends easily with foreigners. They are generally law-abiding, patient and tolerant.

In fairness, one can say that Indian merchant navy officers are equally talented and competent, work with a great degree of dedication and commitment, and are indeed also hard-working, disciplined and loyal. They may not agree to work for lower salaries than promised as that would amount to exploitation by any employer. They may not compromise on working in risky environments as that would be dangerous to the safety and security of their lives. But, in all other respects, Indian officers and seamen have built up an excellent reputation and credibility globally for their professional skills and seamanship.

Maritime training

This is the most opportune time for India to train its ambitious and adventurous boys and girls who have passed their Plus Two examinations, with Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, and who have an affinity for a life at sea to take up a rewarding and fulfilling career in the nautical and engineering branches of the Merchant Navy.

A seafarer gets about $1,500 (tax-free) per month on joining a ship and every two years they can expect a promotion. A recent survey of sea-going personnel carried out by a recruitment company revealed that the pay was not the most popular reason but the excitement of a career at sea and a desire to see the world was the main motivating factor.

Despite all the negative factors, like time spent away from family and friends, on-board living conditions, risk of piracy at sea, and difficulties in keeping in touch with home it is heartening to note that job satisfaction, career-related ambition and job security score high with among the aspiring seafarers.

AMET, the first Maritime University in India in the private sector, received 800 applications for 200 seats for BE (Marine Engineering, four-year course). AMET admitted 963 students in 2009-2010 while the demand for admission came from over 3,000 students. The Government of India established an Indian Maritime University at Chennai in November 2008 and it has ambitious plans to open centres and campuses in all the maritime States with a view to providing quality education in maritime studies and enhancing and upgrading the capacity and capabilities for professional training.

If India can create a vast talent pool of professionally qualified and technically trained maritime personnel it will not only be able to overtake the Philippines as the largest provider of seafarers but also script a success story similar to what it has already done in the IT field on the global scene.

(The author, a former Acting Chairman, JN Port, Mumbai and former Chairman, Mormugao Port Trust, Goa, is a visiting professor at Manipal University. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

Related Stories:
‘Global demand for Indian seafarers is high’
`Proper maritime training must for Indian seafarers'

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 14, 2009)
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