Merchant Navy
Arun Srivastava, 07 Feb 2014
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AN international trade, shipping  offers fascinating career as seafarers (those who earn their living by service at sea). The  profession is widely described as challenging, adventurous and highly paid.

About 90 per cent of the global goods transportation takes place through sea routes by purpose-built merchant vessels. The cost of ships could be as high as $5-100 million and it takes years to build a ship. So it’s both capital-intensive and time-consuming.

“The total number of ships across the world is about 50,500. India has got a total of 35,000 officers and 110,000 seafarers while the world shipping needs around 466,000 officers and 721,000 seafarers. At the start of the year, there was a shortage of around 10,000 officers globally. India accounts for around 5 per cent of world manning,” says an expert in an industry magazine’s recent issue.

Diverse opportunities
In modern day shipping, the sector involves ocean management, ports, logistics, shipbuilding, supply chain management, personnel recruitment and ship-management. In this trade practice a third party takes the overall charge of business activities and pays to the owner of the vessel, called principal, a share of the revenue as agreed upon between them. Together they form a mammoth industry complicated enough to call for the services of marine lawyers, policy makers, media, and usually a government ministry. Also, the industry has been expanding to include more and more business functions. Besides, offshore oil drilling, marine tourism, professional and recreational diving are just a few of the numerous sea-based avenues of employment. 

Hierarchy on board
Ships remain the core of this hugely diversified industry. In order to manage different functions on the ship there are three distinct departments: nautical also called deck, engine and rating. There are adequately qualified personnel in each of the three departments in a well laid-out hierarchy. For example, a ship is navigated chiefly by the Master, who is also called Captain. He is the senior-most navigation officer and comes from the deck department, followed by chief officer, second officer and third officer. There is a chief engineer, second engineer, third engineer and electrical officer in the engine department. Then, there is a third line of workers who do other sundry functions which are crucial and can spell disaster if not done in the most efficient manner.

The life and work on a cargo vessel which includes oil tankers, petrochemical tankers, dry bulk carriers, etc. is a lot about safe and efficient management of cargo and ship. Cruise ships are growing rapidly in number though mostly in western Europe. They offer recreation, quality leisure, fun, entertainment, good food, socializing and networking. The good news is that a very satisfying career can made in the field by average students with basic schooling.

Job profiles: There are basically three streams of employment onboard a ship – deck officers, engineers and ratings. Deck officers have the responsibility of navigation, safe and efficient movement of the ship and cargo.

Engineers are primarily needed to look after the engine, which in case of a ship is not only gigantic but also complicated. Ratings are such staff onboard a ship who offer physical help in carrying out various functions. Typically, each of these three departments has well organized hierarchy. Deck officers are headed by the Master, also called Captain. Similarly, the engine department is headed by the Chief Engineer and the ratings are headed by a Boatswain. A Master or a Chief Engineer is assisted by many junior colleagues, who have the same basic qualification but not the same sea-experience and certificates of competency as the Master or a Chief Engineer. And in order to gain the sea-experience and different competency certificates, they need to not only find and continue with the sea job but also take the post-sea competency examinations from time to time to facilitate their promotions.

The demand-supply mismatch in the manning sector has led to faster promotions and a fresh graduate in nautical science or marine engineering can  expect to rise to the top-most level in the official hierarchy in about six years.

The day at sea is divided into six four-hour periods. Three group of watch standers are on duty for four hours and then off for eight hours. Seamen often work overtime during their off time.

Physical Standards
10+2 with minimum 55% in PCM or BSc
Eyesight:6/6 or without spectacles,without
colour blindness
BE or BTech
Eyesight:+/- 2.5, without colour blindness
BE Marine Engg
10+2 with 60% in PCM & 50% in English
Eyesight:+/- 2.5, without colour blindness

Physical fitness
Physical fitness is required as per ILO-147 convention, ISM/STCW Code (1/9) and Medical Examination (Ministry of Shipping, Government of India) Rules 2000.

Perks and benefits offered by crewing agents
Family carriage for all ranks
Hometown repatriation airfare (to and fro)
Flag state certification at company’s expenses
Standby wages during courses / at the time of joining
Company’s accommodation
Career prospect ashore
Excellent promotion prospects

Rankings onboard
Master: A Master who is also called Captain of the ship is the highest officer aboard a ship. He oversees all ship operations and keeps the records of the ship. He is also supposed to take care of accounting and bookkeeping functions. He takes command of the vessel in inclement weather and in crowded or narrow water. He receives and implements instructions from the employers. His salary could be in the range of $10,000 and above.

Chief OFFICER: He is next only to the Master. Traditionally, a chief officer is responsible for stowage, cargo-handling, and organization of works for other seamen. He also assists the master in the navigating duties. Salary—$8,000 and above.

Second OFFICER: Practically the ship’s navigation officer, he is also in charge of twelve to four watch.
Keeps all the books and charts up to date, monitors navigation equipment on bridge. He is also the ship’s medical officer. Salary—$6,000 and above.

Third OFFICER: He is in charge of four to eight watch and is directly responsible for all deck operations — cargo storage and handling, deck maintenance and deck supplies. Salary—$4,000 and above.

Course for Ratings

Six-month Pre-Sea course for General Purpose Rating (GP Rating)

Six-Month Pre-Sea course for General Purpose Rating for Fitters/Petty Officers.
Eligibility: Pass with aggregate 40% marks in 10th standard from a recognized Board with Science, Mathematic as subjects and with minimum 40 percent marks in English language.
Or pass in 2-year ITI course from government approved institute. Minimum 50 percent aggregate marks in final year and minimum 40 percent marks in English at 10th or diploma exam.
Age: Between 17  to 25 years. 

Chief ENGINEER: He is the senior-most engineer officer and therefore responsible for the satisfactory working and upkeep of the engine room and its various components. Salary—$10,000 and above.

Second ENGINEER: In charge of four to eight watch. Usually works from eight to four, handling engine maintenance. He assigns duties to unlicensed personnel. Salary—$6,000 and above.

Third ENGINEER: In charge of twelve to four watch. Salary—$4,000 and above.

Fourth ENGINEER: He is generally the most junior marine engineer on the ship. He is usually responsible for electrical, sewage treatment, lube oil, bilge, and oily water separation systems. Salary—$3,000 and above.

Other staff onboard
Following personnel come from the Ratings streams and command a monthly salary of about $1,000.

Rating: Seaman, forming a support team on the ship.

Pumpman: A rating who operates pumps in an oil tanker and maintains and repairs all cargo handling equipment on tankers.
Ordinary SEAMAN: A deck crew member who is subordinate to the able bodied seaman.

Able BODIED SEAMAN: He is a  member of the deck crew who is able
to perform all the duties of an experienced seaman.

Fitter: Trained in welding, refrigeration, lathe operation, die-casting, electricity, pumping, water purification, oiling, evaluating engine gauges and
one who actively helps in the engine maintenance.

Electrical OFFICER: Well qualified hand who undertakes maintenance and repair works of electrical and electronic equipment aboard a vessel. His salary could be higher depending on his qualification and competency.
Chief COOK: Shipboard hand who cooks and bakes. His salary could be higher depending on his qualification and competency.
Boatswain (BOSUN): The highest uncertified rating in the deck department who has immediate charge of all deck hands and who in turn comes under the direct orders of the master or chief mate or mate.

Top Indian companies that recruit shipping staff
D’Amico Ships (India) Pvt Ltd
Wallem Shipmanagement (India) Pvt Ltd
Fleet Management Ltd
NYK Shipmanagement
Ishima International Ship management
Pentagon Marine Services P. Ltd
MMS Maritime (India) Pvt Ltd
Dynacom Tankers Management Ltd
Bernhard Schutle Shipmanagement
Crew Management (India)Pvt Ltd 

Seafarers’ job market
The crew for a cargo vessel numbers less than 50 while that of a cruise ship could be anything between 300 and 1000. They are mostly taken on fixed-period contracts to join the ship during its voyage which could be as long as six months and above. A qualified person selected by the employer company is usually flown to the port where the employer ship is anchored and the person joins the ship and begins his work in the field assigned to him. A mention is made in his continuous discharge certificate (CDC), which functions as an official record for his sea-experience. Wages are paid for the contract period.

All the jobs onboard a ship are contractual, ranging from a short period of 15 days to 9 months or so. The contract period depends on the voyage plan of a particular ship.

So, effectively, every six months, a seaman can choose a new company and vessel to work with. The salary ranges from $300-800 per month at the entry level to $10,000-12,000 and above for a captain or chief engineer. The Indian job market is flooded with international shipping companies offering most competitive wages and all kinds of perks to recruit the best hands.
Their duties vary with the type of
ship, the type of voyage, the number of crewmembers, the weather, and many other variables.


Where AND WHAT TO STUDY: There are two departments of functions – one of navigation, which at its highest level is represented by the Master or Captain of the ship and the other of engine, represented by the Chief Engineer at the highest level. One can get into the navigation department after a one-year diploma in Deck Cadet. Similarly, a qualified engineer can join the engine department after doing one-year graduation in mechanical engineering (GME). Along with prescribed sea-experience and further study and examination, both can lead to full-fledged degree in nautical sciences and marine engineering respectively.
There are some institutions which offer 4-year engineering course leading to BE Marine Engineering. There are two engineering colleges by the name of Marine Engineering and Research Institute (MERI), in Kolkata and Mumbai, offering BE Marine Engineering course. Most of the staff for the engine departments have been coming from these two institutions. You require 60 percent in PCM to sit for entrance test.

Bsc Nautical Science
This is a six-semester (three year) programme constituting three stages.

  • A candidate is admitted to the one-year (2 semesters) pre-sea course and on the successful completion of the first two semesters, he will be awarded Diploma in Nautical Science (DNS).
  • This is followed by one-and-a-half years (3 semesters) onboard ship training and after successful completion, he is awarded Advanced Diploma in Nautical Science (ADNS).
  • After completion of the onboard training, the Sixth Semester constitutes “Second Mate Certificate of Competency” awarded by the Director General of Shipping and the candidate is awarded BSc (Nautical Science) degree from the Indian Maritime University (IMU).
    First year constitute onshore training which is designed to impart basic knowledge on the type of merchant ships, ship operations, types of goods carried by ships, shipping trade and a good foundation in the basic principles of navigation and environmental sciences.
    There are three courses available to become a marine engineer.
  • BE Marine Engineering Course: After 10 + 2 or its equivalent examination with a minimum 60 percent aggregate in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, and at least 50 percent in English at 10th or 12th standard, one can take the Common Entrance Test conducted by IMU for admission to the 4-year BE Marine Engineering course. The candidate should not be above 25 years and should be physically fit for sea service under standard norms, with eyesight upto +/- 2.5, and with no colour blindness.
  • Two-year DME Course: There is also a two-year DME course for Diploma Holder in Mechanical/Marine/Shipbuilding/Naval Architecture/Electrical Engineering.
  • One year pre-sea training: There is also one year pre-sea training for Graduates in Mechancical Engineering or Naval Architecture (GME).

    All these courses lead to Class IV Marine Engineer Officer Certificate of Competency, awarded by the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India, after 6 months of sea service, enabling the cadets to become Marine Engineers
    on board Merchant Naval ships anywhere in the world. This course is strictly residential.
    All candidates for Deck Cadet, GME and BTech (Marine Engineering) have to appear for Common Entrance Test conducted by IME. Successful candidates are called for counselling by the IMU, Chennai, and allotted seats in different institutions.
    Students who want to make a career in any of these fields have to ensure they start early because the admission is open for 10+2 pass students. Second thing they should ensure is that their eyesight and general health is as per the required norms. Sitting in the IMU’s entrance test is also very crucial. After clearing the exam, you can study these courses at IMU’s four campuses and some 120 maritime training institutes spread across the country but typically concentrating around maritime hubs like Mumbai and Chennai.
    The Course fees vary from 2.2 lakhs to 2.25 lakhs per annum for both the courses, both at IMU and affiliated colleges.

Check out recruitment plans
The best course of action would be to check out national and international companies by contacting them through phone and checking out their websites for their recruitment plan. In many cases, they hold their own entrance test and personal interviews to select fresh candidates. If you qualify their examination, they sponsor you in the sense that they commit to offer employment after the successful completion of the course. Many a time monetary benefit is also offered by these companies. Sponsored candidates are not required to come for counselling at IMU’s Chennai office but can take admission at the institution his sponsor has finalized.

Certification Agencies DG Shipping
The Directorate General of Shipping, India, is a government body under the Ministry of Shipping and deals with implementation of shipping policy and legislation, promotion of maritime education, regulation of employment and welfare of seamen, development of coastal shipping, augmentation of shipping tonnage, examination and certification of Merchant Navy Officers.

STCW ’95
Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) 1995 is a set of some basic courses which every aspirant must undergo and obtain a certificate to be able to work onboard a ship.STCW Courses include Elementary First Aid (EFA), Ship Security Officers (SSO), Passenger Ship Familiarisation (PSF), Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting (FPFF), Personal Survival Techniques (PST), Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (PSSR), Medical First Aid (MFA).
CDC:  Continuous Discharge Certificate-cum-Seafarers’ Identity Document in India is issued by Director General of Shipping.This is a must-document for all seafarers in which there is a mention every time the holder of the CDC leaves a ship after his stint is over. This is an official certificate confirming sea experience in the employment for which he was engaged.

In case you could not find any sponsor, you better sit for IMU’s entrance examination which selects more than 4,000 students for admission to IMU’s own colleges and private training institutes across the country. For this examination, the students should start looking for admission notice from early March. The minimum eligibility criteria include a 10+2 with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics with 55 percent. So, you need to begin preparing for it a little early. If you are preparing for any engineering entrance test, you don’t need to study anything more. The examination pattern remains somewhat same as that of engineering entrance tests.  Ratings go for six months’ pre-sea training at DG approved institutes.


Skillsets and attributes
The basic attributes in a person for a successful career in the shipping industry are that he should be physically and mentally strong, ready to accept challenges and work hard, have a liking for outdoor life and travelling. If you enter a shipping career latest at the age of 25 years, within five years you can expect to be right at the top or nearby in the official hierarchy of people working onboard a ship. Salary is given as per the international standards so as to attract the best hands available. So there is enough competition among the shipping professionals from countries all over the world. As you spend time on the ship as its staff member, you confront unexpected and extra ordinary situations. In order to successfully overcome them you need to have special skill sets, which are determined by regular tests of competency. Basically, as you grow from one rank to the next, you need to qualify certain standards set by international shipping bodies and class societies. These tests of competency are targeted at identifying how best one can deal with day-to-day functioning of the ship in the international arena. Mind you, the cost of a ship, its cargo and the marine environment in which it moves remains too high to risk with poor standard of manpower.
So, you must have an orientation towards the sea, international business, and ability to take decisions in most critical of times. Good in health isanother must. 

Public institutions

National Maritime Academy
T S Chanakya
Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Advanced Maritime Studies Research
Marine Engineering Research Institute
Marine Engineering Research Institute
Indian Institute of Port  Management
National Ship Design & Research Centre

Best colleges
Some of the best maritime training institutions are in the government sector, followed by 120-odd private institutions. All erstwhile government-run maritime training institutions have been handed over to the Indian Maritime University, which came into being towards the fag end of 2008. All the colleges are highly rated for their respective nautical and engineering courses.

Indian Maritime University currently has eight departments — Port Management, Nautical Science, Marine Engineering, Transport & Logistics (Business School), Marine Sciences, Maritime Law,  Naval Architecture & Ship Building and Inland Water Transport.

Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Advanced Maritime Studies and Research is a premier post-sea Maritime Education and Training Institute offering a comprehensive range of courses for Merchant Navy Officers. In the private sector, most of the colleges listed alongside  are good, but ensure that, the facilities, they promise are available and under their control, in the light of the happenings in the recent UGC reviews. 
Private institutions

Orissa Maritime Academy
Trident College of Marine Technology
Asha Institute of Marine Technology
Sriram Institute of Maritime Studies
Acqatech Institute of Maritime Studies
Euro Tech Maritime Academy
Commander Ali Academy of Merchant Navy
Sri Chakra Maritime College
Balaji Seaman Training Institute
Maritime Training Academy


Shipping industry also involves a lot of shore-based functions in manning, management of the ship and its business. One can also find a career in teaching and training after having done enough of sea-going. The cargoes, which are loaded onto the ships come from within a country and mostly through roads. This involves a high degree of logistics support and formalities pertaining to foreign trade as the goods are mostly shipped outside the country. People from shipping background are much in demand as they can take charge of these functions with a little training and orientation programmes.
So if you have the heart for adventure, wet your feet in international waters for a highly paid career.  


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