Shipping and Seafaring – choice of smart generation!
Dr. Sajid Hussain CEng CMarEng FIMarEST
Shipping is one of the ancient means of transporting cargo and people through oceanic blue-highways. At present, whole earth is being rotated by nearly 1.6 million Seafarers (Marine Officers – Marine Engineers – Marine Ratings) through their day-n-night effort in moving yearly nearly 8 billion tons of cargo (commodities, fuel, foodstuffs, goods and products) within the current global economy; however, the 8 billion dwellers of the earth loosely take it as just an industry – Shipping Industry. This huge global-movement does not always create a strong echo on their personal radar. Just imagine there is no shipping! Half the world would starve and the rest half would freeze! Generally or mostly ships are ‘out of sight and out of mind’ and so the Seafarers too! Therefore, unfortunately, the ocean-going ships and the seafarers – both remain behind the scene!
Seafaring is always a dangerous and hard yet attractive and desired job. It contains professional pressures and risks. At the end of a lengthy and stressful day, there is no home or family; no pleasant evening gossiping with friends at home or at restaurants; no social ups & downs; no variations of surroundings; no relaxation or way-out to de-stress – just the persistent murmur of the diesels & waves and the immeasurable movement of the ship that is the floating lonely home-cum-workplace of the seafarers – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 30 days a month and so on. Not the end… Seafarers always remain burdened with the possibility of natural calamities and, nowadays, unenviable hazards like perils of pirate attacks, unwarranted detention and abandonment in foreign ports.
On the other, seafaring is always a charming and smart life-style at the blue-world! Modern shipping is highly regulated for ensuring ‘safe, secure and environment-friendly’ service by the International Maritime Organisation – a UN specialized agency. Everyday the Seafarers are in newer time-zone! Every port they are meeting with newer nationals! Earning while learning! Salty salary which is really huge and compensating! Communicating with friends & families through phone/fax/emails/video! Family-expedition through family-carrying facilities on-board! Leadership positions while being young! Reaching the top (Master Mariners [Captain] or Marine Engineers [Chief Engineer]) of their careers within 10 years! Mobility ashore with changeable hands-on skill & experience (at around 40-50 years of age)!
Around 90% of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry which is cost-effective. There are over 50,000 ocean-going merchant ships (over 1,000 DWT) trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations, and manned by around 1.5 million seafarers of virtually every nationality. Currently, in average 3,000 new vessels come out from the yards; of which nearly 5-10 are from our Bangladesh! Let’s be proud of the country’s Western Marine Shipyard and Ananda Shipbuilders for their giant steps! If we include a reserve ratio of 1.5, this means that these new vessels alone will demand more than 30,000 new Officers.
Seafarer producing countries
World GDP needs to grow at 7% in order to absorb all the ships due for delivery (ref: A study of Clarksons). It has grown on an average 4% over the last few years and there are no reasons to believe that it may grow any faster. Which means the additional capacity may remain as overcapacity. Nevertheless, this 4% growth will still require 30,000 new Officers over the next 2 years. The current global demand of 5,50,000 Seafaring Officers/Engineers has a shortfall of around 1,00,000 and this shortfall will constantly be increasing to 3,50,000 by 2050 (ref: Hellenic Shipping News). However, the scenario for Marine Ratings/Crews is just reverse – a huge surplus! Citizens of the developed countries are getting less interested in sea career as they find better jobs in land. Mainly due to comparatively cheaper labour sources – shipbuilding and seafarers supply – both have shifted to East by last 30 years.
If the global fleet increases in size by 70% between now and 2030 (as has been widely predicted, based on the growth trend of thelast five decades), the current number of 500,000 officers needs to be increased to 850,000. If half the existing officers retire by 2030, that means 600,000 new officers will need to be recruited and trained from now. This equates to an annual requirement for officers in the order of some 40,000 (ref: IMO News – Issue 3/2015 – the importance of maritime education and training).
Many ship management companies are now looking for newer source of seafarers. Shipping World is already seeing newer countries like Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam besides traditional supplying countries like Philippines, China and India in maritime manpower map. All these Asian countries are emerging economies and the causes of the excellence being a major manpower supply region mainly due to its population, sufficiently high literacy rates, acceptable/good education background, disparity in shore and sea wages, high unemployment rate and many coastal states having seagoing history.
Asia: Majority of seafarers comes from Philippines; however, this workforce is mainly the Ratings i.e. Marine Ratings/Crews. India has been well-set in the maritime manpower map with generating marine officers/engineers for many years. However, nowadays students are finding many comparable choices. China has all the traits to be a major international supplying point. But that has not been happened because of very internal focus; although their economy is doing very well and requires manpower for its own use and having an unemployment rate of only 4.5%. Vietnam seemed to be a forthcoming supply point, but has failed to meet the expectations in numbers, mainly due do to lack of educational background and training facilities. Indonesia on the other hand has a future prospect to enter the supply arena; however, we have to wait for that future. Myanmar, due to its political instability, has not been able to capitalize its hard-working workforce. Moreover due to sanctions imposed by many countries Myanmar has not figured on maritime manpower map yet.
Western world: East Europe still continues with their supply; but may not be able to do so for long. As countries develop – and as there come better opportunities ashore – seafaring’s attractiveness fades away. This is a cycle of development seen with all so called developed nations. West Europe today does not supply enough seafarers compared to East Europe due to its wage parity.
South America: A country needs to have a good merchant fleet of its own for becoming a strong manpower supplying point. Except Brazil, most South American countries have small fleets. In fact, these countries have just the sufficient manpower to meet their own demands only. Although Brazil trains officers for its own naval and merchant fleets; however, as their oil and offshore sector is growing, the future supply will also be dedicated to meet its own needs.
Africa and Middle East: Excepting Egypt and Nigeria, all the countries have small fleets. Nigerian maritime workforce is mainly working in their oil & gas sector, and few Egyptian officers are seen to be working in the international fleet. This is also the case for some Angolan and South African officers. There lie political and financial risks for international ship management companies to enter into these countries. The same goes for the Middle Eastern maritime countries. Military conflicts and political risks have lessened the importance of these countries in the maritime field.
Wage disparity between shore and sea based jobs is a major attraction for a would-be seafarer. In almost all major supplying countries the disparity is more that 1.5; means in average the maritime job pays 1.5 as much as a similar position on land. When the difference reduces – so does the attraction. Just for this lone factor, it is certain that the manpower supply will continue to be from the Asia and East Europe. Besides manpower shortfall, cost is another concern. Shipping world continuously experiences ‘booms, recessions and depressions’ in cyclic order (currently boom is going on)! These ups and downs have always characterized the shipping market. In 2008, there was a rise of salaries by almost 21%. The operating costs will continue to increase by 3% on average. Wages will go up by 5 to 7% and in some cases 10-15%. Today there will be no “so called cheaper source of supply” that many look for.
Ship Management Companies are always interested to recruit talent with a good basic education and good communication skills in English, with good morale and ethical standards as well as being a predictable and reliable workforce at a competitive price. Our Bangladesh flag carrier fleet (govt. & private) has over 40 ocean-going ships and has around 10,000 Seafarers (7,000 Marine Officers & Marine Engineers and 3,000 Marine Ratings/Crews). Our seafarers may be less in number and so we do not have any mark on the maritime manpower map, but a major number of these ‘less number’ seafarers have been working in world fleet for last 50 years with name and fame. Due to current surplus of Marine Ratings/Crews we may not increase our yearly recruit of the Ratings/Crews but just can maintain the current rate. However, obviously, due to the above mentioned shortfall and to become ‘another new source’. Our current yearly recruit is around 200 Marine Cadets (from Bangladesh Marine Academy and private Marine Academies); it should always match with the demand & available berths. Needless to mention that for last half a century, Bangladeshi Mariners have established a marine professional image – a capital for future generation.
Salty calling of the Sea!
Therefore now is the time to jump onboard a ship for a career of a lifetime! The cost of residential/regimental education (including all) in Bangladesh Marine Academy is approximately Taka 4,00,000 for initial 2 years; thereafter 1 year sea-service (on-the-job training) with salary. Upon completion of 3 years’ course, Cadets obtain Pre-Sea Nautical Science or Pre-Sea Marine Engineering Certificate and Bachelor of Maritime Science Degree simultaneously. The fees are higher in case of private academies.
Deck Officers (Nautical): Deck officers are primarily responsible for the safe navigational operation of a vessel while the vessel is at sea. They enjoy high levels of responsibility and are required to perform a range of duties. These include managing a navigational watch, designing and implementing a passage plan, monitoring the vessel’s position, speed and direction using sophisticated navigational instruments including electronic charts and RADAR. While the ship is in port deck officers are also responsible for co-coordinating cargo operations (loading, stowage and discharge) ensuring that all procedures are carried out safely and effectively. Senior-most deck officer is the Master Mariner who remains in command.
Marine Engineers: Marine Engineers are primarily responsible for the safe mechanical operation of a vessel. Essentially, they are responsible for operating and maintaining a vessel’s structure, machinery and equipment to make sure the vessel is functioning safely and effectively at all times. The role of a Marine Engineer requires the individual to possess high-tech skills that enable them to effectively manage a number of distinct job activities. Typical functions of a Marine Engineer may include design, testing and maintenance of machinery and equipment, servicing and maintaining propulsion machinery, refrigeration systems, domestic services equipment and electrical generation and distribution. Senior-most Marine Engineer is the Chief Engineer.
The above scenario of the shipping world clearly shows that seafaring is an international engagement that contains continuous challenge of conserving own position among the various maritime nations of the world. Even then it is also clear that prospect and opportunities are there for our Bangladeshi seafarers too. We only need to have the appropriate attitude, professionalism and patience to conquer our due share in the world of oceans. Although we have centuries-old heritage of seafaring, we have merely a tiny presence today in the Maritime Manpower Map – 10 thousand among 1.6 millions world-wide. We may be very small in number but we are not small in our excellence. Each & every corner of the globe, a Bangladeshi seafarer is seen to be working at some apex position. We do not lack in merit, skill and capacities. In this 21st century, we need to have spontaneous combination of professional skill with academic excellence. Besides, if we can ensure efficient leadership and teamwork, the desired day is not far away when maritime light of Bangladesh will also brighten up the policy level of the shipping world.
Maritime Manpower Trend: WManager – Newsletter (1/2011) of Wilhelmsen Ship Management
World Maritime Day 2010: Year of the Seafarer, IMO News (3/2010)
World Maritime Day 2015: IMO News (3/2015)
International Shipping Federation website (http://www.marisec.org/shippingfacts)