Bangalore: India’s maritime regulator has decided to woo youngsters in rural areas towards a career at sea, as it struggles to maintain the country’s 6% share of global seafarers.
(ON BOARD) To attract rural youth, the government has increased the maximum age limit to 25 years for admission to all pre-sea courses for officers. Currently, age limits for various courses are below 25 years, except for the general-purpose staff courses.
“Restricting the age limit was having a severe impact on the rural intake for these courses,” said a circular from the Directorate General of Shipping, or DGS, India’s maritime regulator. “The age relaxation is being done keeping in view the worldwide shortage of officers in merchant navy and to facilitate candidates from rural areas to join the seafaring profession.”
The decision comes as the global shipping industry battles an acute shortage of manpower to operate ships.
The global shortage of marine officers is estimated to nearly treble to 27,000 by 2015 from about 10,000 now as fleet owners buy more ships to haul cargo across the world’s oceans, according to the Baltic and International Maritime Council, or Bimco, the world’s largest private shipping organization with more than 2,550 members across 123 countries.
“The current officer shortage will become severe unless maritime training in increased and measures are taken to address the problem of those leaving a career at sea for on-shore jobs,” Bimco said in a recent report.
Every year, 15% of the global seafaring population of about 1.18 million quit sailing for shore-based jobs.
“The need to increase recruitment and reduce attrition shows that recruitment levels have to go up to meet anticipated demand,” said J.K. Dhar, principal, LBS College of Advanced Maritime Studies and Research. He is also member secretary, Indian Institute of Maritime Studies.
India supplies about 82,000 seafarers, including about 26,900 officers and 55,000 ratings, who carry out routine maintenance and other tasks.
But, unlike in the past, youngsters from urban areas are not keen on a career at sea, putting a spoke in India’s target to supply a fifth of the additional global seafarer requirements by 2015.
“Life at sea is tough. Moreover, when urban youths have other opportunities nowadays to earn as much money by being in their own city and get a wonderful life, why would they want to take up a career at sea?” asked S. Bhardwaj, vice-chancellor of Chennai-based AMET University, a maritime training institute.
Recruiting youngsters from rural areas instead posed another hurdle: age.
“Rural youth starts schooling late and sometimes miss a couple of years in between. So, by the time one completes class XII, he is older than those from urban areas,” said M.C. Yadav, director looking after training at Foreign Owners Representatives and Ship Managers’ Association, or Fosma.
“The decision to increase the age limit...will help rural youths give a shot at merchant navy if they have not made it to anywhere else in life,” said an official looking after training at DGS. She did not want to be named.
The shipping industry has started participating in education fairs held in smaller towns to create awareness of the profession and help attract job-seekers from these areas, said Yadav of Fosma.
“The industry is even planning roadshows in the interior areas to popularize the profession and attract students,” he said.
A committee headed by Kiran Dhingra, the director general of shipping, in a recent report recommended continuation of a government grant to the Indian Maritime University to keep the fee structure low enough and make it attractive to youngsters from the rural parts.
The maritime education fee currently ranges from Rs2.5 lakh to Rs10 lakh, depending upon the course and the college.