India has tightened staffing rules for foreign ships operating in its waters in favour of hiring more local crew.
The rules, framed two years ago, make it mandatory for foreign registered ships to hire a minimum specified Indian crew to be allowed to operate along the country’s coast.
Last week, the director general of shipping, India’s maritime regulator, shortened the licence period for the purpose of applying this rule.
Now, foreign ships with a licence to operate in India for 30-90 days need to hire Indian crew to the extent of one-third of their minimum staffing requirement or actual deployment, which ever is higher, V. Rajendran, a deputy director general of shipping, wrote in an 18 January circular.
If the licence period exceeds 90 days, half the crew needs to be Indian.
Earlier, the licence period for hiring the same percentage of Indian crew was set at 90 and 180 days, respectively. Till 2011, foreign ships were not mandated to hire local crew while operating along the Indian coast.
The main purpose of the new rule, which took effect from 18 January, is to provide more on-board training to maritime students. It requires one-third of the Indian crew hired to be trainee cadets, distributed equally between navigational and engineering sides, Rajendran said.
“A need has been felt to review the earlier rule keeping in view the acute shortage of on-board training slots and the need to create more opportunities for on-board training,” Rajendran wrote in the circular, posted on the website of the maritime regulator.
The country’s coastal trade (transporting cargo on local routes) is reserved for Indian-registered ships. Foreign ships can be hired by domestic firms to operate in Indian territorial waters only when Indian ships are not available and that too with the approval of the director general of shipping.
The licence period granted to foreign ships for operating in India varies depending on their transportation contracts.
Many countries have imposed crewing requirements on ships doing business in their coastal waters and it is only appropriate that similar crewing requirements are imposed on ships engaged in shipping and related activities in Indian coastal waters, Rajendran said.
Many of India’s government-approved maritime training institutes have been grappling with a huge backlog of trainee officers who have completed their pre-sea courses but are yet to complete their on-board ship training due to a shortage of training berths.
India has some 85 maritime training institutes offering various pre-sea training courses, and which need to place the students on ships as trainees after classroom instruction and before they can appear for their examinations.
A review by the maritime regulator showed there was a mismatch between the approved intake for pre-sea courses and the availability of training berths.
“The large and rapidly growing backlog of trainee officers who have completed their pre-sea courses, but are unable to get training berths on board ships, a prerequisite for their certificates of competency in the entry grade, is a matter of serious concern,” a spokesman for the directorate general of shipping said.
“Any step taken for improvement of on-board training slots is good,” said Rajesh Tandon, managing director of V Ships India Pvt. Ltd, the Indian unit of V Ships Group, the world’s biggest provider of crews for cargo ships, oil tankers and ferries. “But the practicality of carrying out such a stipulation has to be discussed with people who are actually doing the job.”
Training institutes say employment opportunities have taken a hit due to the downturn in the shipping sector.
“After training, cadets are not getting jobs. This is a big problem now,” the principal of one of India’s top maritime training institutes based in Mumbai said on condition of anonymity. “It’s high time some checks and balances are put in place.”
India aims to raise its global market share of seafarers to 9% by 2015 from 6% by supplying an additional 65,000 officers and 45,000 ratings (general purpose staff on ships). This will require a tripling of the annual training capacity for officers from 5,600 to 15,000 and doubling it for ratings from 4,600 to 9,000, consultancy firm McKinsey and Co. said in a 2010 report.
Currently, about 82,000 Indian-born seafarers are working on-board ships globally.