Uncertainty looms over maritime education

Uncertainty looms over maritime education

So far, India’s maritime regulator, the director general of shipping (DGS), was vested with the task of overseeing this sector that churns out thousands of officers and sailors to the global shipping industry every year.

After the IMU was set up in November 2008 by an act of Parliament, the DGS issued a circular announcing the formation of a monitoring and implementation committee comprising equal representation from the DGS and the IMU to look after affiliations, approvals, sanctioning and inspections of training institutes.

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This has been set aside by the high court after the circular was challenged by an association of training institutes. The DGS has now sought permission from the shipping ministry ahead of filing an appeal against the order.

Interestingly, both the DGS and the IMU are overseen by the shipping ministry. The court ruling would mean that institutes running maritime courses and affiliated to universities in their respective jurisdiction should henceforth be affiliated with the IMU. This would require institutes running maritime courses along with other courses to de-link maritime courses and get it affiliated with the IMU.

The DGS itself has so far not been able to deal with a key aspect of maritime education—shipboard training. This is mandatory to get a certificate of competency, which, simply put, is a license to sail on ships.

India has some 130 institutes providing maritime education with a total intake capacity of about 6,000 students a year. Of this, roughly 50% do not readily get sea training berths and have to wait for months to fulfil this key requirement.

The DGS has made sea training mandatory to get a certificate of competency. Training institutes are obliged to make provision for sea training for all their students. No marine course for officers is considered completed till on-board training is completed.

Still, several training institutes are found to be shirking their training obligation, leaving the students to fend for themselves. Lack of training takes a heavy toll on students looking for a career at sea. Many of them, coming from economically weaker backgrounds, pledge their properties or borrow money to finance the course.

To address the problem of growing number of students waiting for shipboard training, the DGS had made it mandatory, through a circular in 2007, for institutes to make provision for sea training by working out a tie-up with shipping companies or registered ship manning agents. Such tie-ups, to be in writing, shall specify the sea time trainee berths committed, the ship owner who has made the commitment and the duration for which the commitment is made to the training institute.

The institutes were required, through this step, to make shipboard training arrangements for at least 80% of the students in a year. Otherwise, they have to reduce their intake for the next academic year.

The DGS has also barred institutes from charging extra fees or putting a rent on shipboard training from the students as well as give refund to those who are not given sea training.

Failure to comply with the rules would attract action, including withdrawal of permission to run a particular course or as an approved maritime institute. All this, however, does not seem to have made the desired impact.

Also, the DGS has not been able to implement its own decision because the circular was challenged in the Madras high court by the maritime training institutes association of India, citing practical difficulties in implementing them. Thus, many errant institutes continue to thrive.

India owns just about 1.3% of the global shipping fleet but supplies more than 6% of the total seafarers to the world fleet. The country has positioned itself as a major supplier of manpower to the global maritime industry that sees Indian seafarers as competent, efficient and cost-effective. The Central government is looking to increase India’s share of the global seafarers beyond 6% by tapping some portion of the estimated huge shortage of officers and ratings facing the shipping industry over the next five years.

But, unless issues relating to the sustainability of the quality of maritime education and training are sorted out, this goal would remain a distant dream.

P. Manoj is Mint’s resident shipping expert and writes on issues related to shipping and logistics every other Friday. Respond to this column at allaboveboard@livemint.com