Couple of years back, I found one ordinary seaman and deck cadet smoking near the break of accommodation, while the ship was loading a cargo of Naphtha, a highly volatile cargo. Before the two of them were sent back home, a detailed investigation revealed 2 things.
- Both were unaware that smoking causes risk of fire or explosion
- Having committed this act several times at various places on board, their conviction to point 1 was emboldened by the fact that no untoward incident had ever occurred.
I am sure many Senior officers must have come across these kind of crew at some point in their life.
Before the nineties when only a handful of maritime institutions were operated in India, either by the State/Central Govt. or shipping companies. The discipline, the training and the sense of belonging to a particular institute was full of flavour and nostalgia. When Director General of shipping allowed private participation in maritime education and training to cope up with the shortage of seafarers, every Tom, Dick and Harry jumped on the bandwagon when constant flow of money was more than assured. Victim of this leniency was quality in maritime education. Now we have more seafarers than we need, with a large chunk not finding any placement after passing out their twin semesters.
Today, the list of Director General of shipping approved Maritime training institute has crossed 125 all over India. A total of 7 Maritime university campus are listed on DGS website. These Maritime institutes are subject to a comprehensive inspection programme by organizations, mainly classification societies authorized by DGS. After each Comprehensive Inspection Process (CIP), these organizations rate the institute from B2 to A1. B2 being the least and A1 the highest rating being given to an institute based on the requirements met by the institute and set by Director General of Shipping.
Readers can actually get comprehensive details on the ratings of these maritime institutes, and other details related to maritime training on the government website. However, don’t get fooled by these ratings. While some institutes live up to the standards and justify their ratings, some are much below par to the rating allotted to them. Naturally, bribery, corruption or gratuity has something to do to put wool over our eyes. Organizations are not corrupt, but the people working in them are. So when these corrupt officials carry out a faulty CIP in a maritime institute, the results can be disastrous.
The other line of corruption starts with the maritime universities under whose umbrella the respective institutes have to function. Imagine the expression on my face when one of my students with a less than 75% college attendance, walks out of the examination hall in half time, answering only 2 out of seven questions and confident of failing, passes, when university results are declared. There are hundreds of cases like of this boy and I can imagine the safety of the vessel when they go on board.
Senior Indian ship officers today are frustrated with the quality of cadets employed by shipping companies. A lot of boys from rural areas can hardly speak or write fluent English, an asset which distinguishes us from the rest of the non-English speaking world. An asset which is a requisite in a multinational crew environment. Frankly readers will be surprised to note that these boys are lured by some institute’s staff when they are appearing for their qualifying examinations. A rosy picture of the institute is painted in front of them and not knowing anything about this profession, the glamorous life of world tour and fancy salaries traps them in, unmindful of the hardships that they are accustomed to.
Much of this deterioration in quality of maritime education also comes from the faculty employed by the training institution. A lot of Maritime training institution employ officers from Indian navy who have limitations in teaching nautical or marine engineering subjects. They draw a handsome pension and are also paid an equivalent salary as paid to a Merchant navy Master or Chief engineer. I personally find this grossly unjust and perhaps this is one of the reasons Senior Masters or Chief engineers are hesitant to embrace teaching as a profession.
Merchant navy officers earning decent salary on board ship will rarely settle for 1/10th of their post-tax paid salary equivalent to one being paid to Indian navy officers pension. Here I forgot to mention that salaries paid to faculty is directly proportional to the institute rating in most cases. I know a friend who was denied salary for nearly 14 months as a principal and he had to take legal action against the institute to recover his dues. Can you expect quality training from such institutes?
After every few years, seafarers are required to upgrade their certificates. Now this is interesting. First STCW 95 and now STCW 2010, comes into force. Broadly the idea is to enhance and upgrade knowledge of seafarers. But what most institutes do is upgrade the certificates for a hefty fee. Because the number of junior officers is swelling, Institutes are literally singing with money pouring in from all quarters. The seats are restricted by DGS for each course for each institute therefore these limited seats cause officers to travel in all directions to upgrade their STCW2010 certificates in the shortest possible time and sometimes on same dates they book several courses. Some institutes are just too willing to comply.
Naturally with so many candidates in line and few faculty, Institutes must hire more faculty. Good merchant navy faculty is rare so don’t be surprised if you find Navy divers conducting Security officer courses and navy petty officers conducting Proficiency in survival craft and rescue boats. DGS requires a valid or expired DCE on your license, valid or expired. It matters little if you were a Master / Chief engineer on oil tanker 2 decades ago but still fit to teach courses for tanker familiarization. Who cares if Director General of shipping is strict about attendance. Records in institutes (or at sea) are easily fudged. Faculty with a restriction of maximum 18 hours / week is made to slog for additional hours. All this leads to “ZERO” value enhancement in knowledge and STCW 2010 is reduced to a mere paper exercise.
Director General of shipping has been issuing show cause notices to institutes who violate the norms but rarely does Director General of shipping takes firm and concrete action for non-compliance. If found guilty of bribing, false documentation, luring candidates to fill empty seats, these institutes should be banned forever and their license cancelled. The unions in India are toothless when it concerns shore based employment for merchant navy officers. Certificate of service was long ago banned but these officers still infringe on jobs which rightfully belongs to Merchant navy. Due to this gross injustice, quality Merchant navy officers will stay away and the fate of good quality Maritime education will hang on a balance tilted more towards greedy Maritime institutions.
Not all is lost though. Some A1 grade institutes run by Reputed shipping companies maintain the standards and their cadets are in demand and these institutes ensure 100 percent placements for their cadets. They remain the first choice of new entrants and I have often seen a sense of pride and belonging among the cadets of these institutes. Since one bad cadet is enough to change the perception of the entire world towards us, it is very essential that the Government bodies entrusted to ensure compliance are strict in both word and action. After all no one wants any accident on board.
What is actually missing in this whole scenario is implementation.
Director General of Shipping should ensure
- That all private institutes must be audited by at least two agencies.
- Accounts of each private institute must be audited by an audit firm suggested by Director General of Shipping. This will ensure that some profits are spent on cadets welfare and their constant grooming as future seafarers.
- Indian Navy officers drawing Pension + salary paid by institute should equal the salary paid to a Master Mariner or a Chief Engineer. This will attract good Masters / Chief engineers to the field of education.
- Only reputed and forthright Auditors should be used for Comprehensive inspection programs (CIP).
- Monitor behaviours and lifestyles of their local Mercantile Marine Department surveyors, when there is a strong possibility of Institutes influencing these officers through cash and kind.
- Constantly monitor attrition of Faculty from institute. A large attrition will surely ring some warning bells.
- Lastly, run a small feedback section on their website for all seafarers.
Over to you..
What according to you should be done to improve the quality of education and seafarers?
Let’s know in the comments below.
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