Interview: Master Mariners Speak On Training, Corruption And Jobs In the Industry Today

The rank of a Master Mariner is the pinnacle of achievement in the merchant navy. Years of training, hard work, rigorous examinations, experience at sea and mental and physical constitution later, a cadet finally achieves what he has always looked up to- taking command of a vessel.

While at a training institute, a newbie always has ample questions with regard to the profession and what it is due to bring in terms of professional success, relentlessly posing questions to Masters about their time out at sea including all the trials and tribulations that career brought with it, and naturally.

We at Marine Insight thought it to prudent to bring forward to our readers’ first-hand experiences from Masters which would bring clarity from a stalwart’s viewpoint and at the same time help them understand the profession a little more.

With this in mind, we interviewed two very respected Masters from two different backgrounds (one who started as a cadet and another who come from the Indian Navy background eventually switching over to the merchant navy).

Capt. Subroto Khan (SK) is a Master Mariner who, after extensive experience out at sea, is currently a faculty member at the Great Eastern Institute of Maritime Studies. Capt. Vivek Scudder (VS) is also a Master Mariner who is currently Senior Faculty at the RL Institute of Nautical Sciences. We (MI) got their views on their time at sea, the current scenario in the industry, what is lacking and the steps they think will improve the quality of officers onboard ships. Here’s what they had to say.

MI: At first, I’m sure everyone would like to know more about you – school, college, pre-sea, cadetship, becoming a Master Mariner and your cadetship experience.

SK: I had completed my schooling from The Doon School, Dehradun where I came to know about the prestigious and lucrative career at sea from one of my classmates who happens to be a successful Superintendent today in a major shipping company in Singapore. I tried to enter as a direct entry cadet but did not succeed. Finally, I appeared for the IIT JEE exam where one of the options along with the IITs was the option to join the Merchant navy either through TS Rajendra in Mumbai or the DMET in Kolkata.I opted for the 2-year pre-sea training at TS Rajendra and along with 80 other cadets, joined the training at Ferry Wharf on a bright November morning.

Two years flew by in rigorous training, with the fear of not getting a ship after training looming constantly over us. I was lucky to get the Great Eastern Shipping Scholarship making me somewhat assured of a placement after passing out. I joined the Great Eastern Shipping Company in Dec ‘85 and the first ship was a brand new ship which had just arrived at Butcher Is. on its maiden voyage to Mumbai. 

VS: I studied at the King George’s School, Bangalore and thereafter at the Lawrence School, Lovedale. Following that, I did my college from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. I am an ex-naval cadet and officer. I joined the merchant navy as a Chief Officer in 1989 with the South India Shipping Corporation Ltd. that later merged with Essar Shipping Ltd. Both were excellent companies.

MI: What about the competency exams (how hard were they, how did you go about studying for them, how was life through prep- broke/basic living etc, the feeling upon clearing)

SK: I completed my seat time in 3 other ships to eventually appear for my competency exams in 1988. It was difficult financially along with the fear of facing the surveyors at MMD, always was a harsh reminder when we were out partying during exams! There was an immense urgency to clear the exams in the shortest possible time as the recession was at its peak.I finally joined Great Eastern after clearing my ticket and got my command as a Master in 1995.

VS: I did my Masters course at LBS in Mumbai in 1990 and got my command as a Master in 1993. The exams were very tough back then, especially the orals.

MI: Difference among cadets now and back then? What are the improvements needed in training? 

SK: Today the cadets are too distracted and hence are not able to do justice to their profession.The pride of being a seafarer is a trait difficult to find.They need to be dedicated to their profession and be eager to learn every day. I remember a Chief Officer who told us to show him 5 new things we learned on a daily basis and to always maintain a diary to note down things.

The ship staff is too busy to find adequate time to spend on training but they need to ensure the juniors are groomed and mentored so that when they come back as officers the seniors are more confident in delegating duties to them and hence their workload will be reduced automatically.Good pre-sea and onboard training for the cadets is a win-win situation for everyone – the ship staff, the company and the industry as a whole. As the mantra goes-train, train and retrain and retain.

VS: Earlier, cadets were doing 3 years of sea time before they went ahead with their 2MFG exam. That was a much better system. Now they do college for 3 years and just 1 year of sea-time which is not sufficient. They lack practical knowledge today and are usually poor in the practical aspects of COLREGs and bridge teamwork. Only 50% of the cadets are good today and many of them lack the basic knowledge of English, which imperative onboard. A master always expects a cadet onboard to display good practical knowledge and to display proficiency in navigation eventually along with cargo work and ship stability. More emphasis should be given to practical aspects of COLREGs and bridge teamwork. BTM and BRM should be part of the cadet’s syllabus.

MI: How do you address the issue of rampant corruption – the presence of agents that claim huge amount to place cadets?

SK: Corruption is raising its ugly head in placements which were not there in our time. One needs to be vigilant and ensure thorough background check before committing any money to the agents who are taking advantage of the situation. My advice to the cadets- be patient and the tides will change.Your day will come when you will get a suitable opportunity. Shortcuts can lead to disaster.

VS: Any agents in question should inevitably be in possession of an RPS License.

MI: Many youngsters are not getting jobs. We do understand it depends on the market situation, but there is a huge gap between demand and supply. How can we address this issue in the long run?

SK: To ease the situation of a number of waiting trainees, the Port Trusts can help in recruiting them for their services including Pilotage. There is plenty of scope available in the Port Operations where some of the interested waiting candidates can join till the situation improves.

VS: Cut down cadet training to 20 cadets per batch per institute per year

MI: Any interesting accounts from the time at sea?

SK: There are many but none that I can think off the top of my head right now. We shall revisit this question another time!

VS: Sailing from Venezuela (loaded Alumina) to Iceland (Grundartangi near Reykjavik). A very interesting and tricky voyage of 10 days of which 3 days involved navigating through ice fields and icebergs- it was awesome! Visiting Iceland itself was a great experience. Seeing those hot geysers and springs amid glaciers and experiencing sub-zero temperatures is something I will never forget!

Marine Insight would like to express their gratitude to both Masters for taking time out from their busy schedules to let our readers get a better perspective of the profession and the industry as a whole.

You may also like to read – Interview: Job Of Claims Executive In The Maritime Industry

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

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About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.

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