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Marine training: Sailing from a glorious past to grim present

(In the present scenario prevailing in the marine institutes generally and with regards to the cadets coming out of those institutes, all the significant stakeholders of the marine industry have expressed grave concern over the quality of training given to the cadets in these institutes. It is said the shipping industry does not seem to look in favour of the marine cadets from these institutes since quality appears to have been compromised on different levels beginning from recruiting faculty to teach to the very fact of evaluation system which does not seem to have gained unconditional international merit. Many experienced senior mariners and captains like Captain Pankaj Bhargava( who contributes to ‘Marine Insight’ comprehensively on marine issues ) have repeatedly pointed out the decline in the quality of marine training provided here and now.

 In the same line, another very senior seafarer Mr.K.R.A. Narasiah, former Vice-President, RL Institute of Nautical Sciences, and  one of the senior most Marine Engineers actively involved in various Maritime related activities, writes on marine training in a popular media.)

Among the many discussions at the recently held World Shipping Forum meet in Chennai, a pertinent issue was the status of marine training in India today.

Not many remember that we would never have had a training ship, but for Sir P Sivaswami Iyer (1864-1946), a statesman who was the advocate general of Madras from 1907 to 1911. In the first session of the reformed central legislative assembly on January 12, 1922, Iyer moved a resolution to constitute a committee to investigate possibilities of promoting the formation of an Indian mercantile marine. The resolution was adopted in which there was a point "for the establishment of a nautical college in Indian waters for the purpose of training the executive officers and engineers of ships".

A committee headed by Captain E J Headlam, appointed on February 3, 1923 stressed the need for a "training school for deck and engine room staff and the conversion of the Royal Indian Marine Troopship Dufferin for that purpose". As no action was taken, Aiyar, on March 19, 1926 moved another resolution that emphasised on the creation of an Indian mercantile marine, training Indians, introducing marine engineering in selected institutions and introducing licensing for coastal trade. After much persuasion, training ship Dufferin was commissioned in December 1927. But, although Indians were trained along with British, they were not hired by shipping companies. By 1936, only 25 Indian cadets were employed by British companies in India. A ship fully manned by Indians was possible only in 1950 when S S Jalagopal of Scindias sailed into Singapore on October 12, under the command of an Indian captain.

 These struggles seem futile when one looks at the ailing training system today. Though the Indian Maritime University with seven training centres in India was established in Chennai, the ills of training and placement haunt the Indian mariner. Mushrooming of institutes all over the country seems to have reduced the quality of training. "Foreign companies which earlier preferred Indian officers are now hesitant to hire them as they feel the training is not good enough" says an expert. There are 38 training centres in south India alone, which churns mariners in numbers, making placement tough.

Reputed training centres have their own woes. "Why should the D G of shipping have all the control over training? We need a separate directorate for maritime education and training" says senior
member Dr R Lakshmipathy, chairman, R L Institute of Nautical Sciences, Madurai and Publisher of Sagar Sandesh, Maritime tabloid English Weekly e-paper.

The Merchant Shipping Bill 2016, introduced in the Lok Sabha recently also seeks to rectify some of the ills, especially to monitor the training system and certification. Some trainers feel that training should be transferred from the bureaucracy to a directorate devoted to the purpose. Paradoxically, there is both a dearth of well-trained officers and a surplus of unemployed mariners. Recently a premier shipping company said that well-trained mariners were running away to serve on foreign ships. If quick action is not taken, the future may be bleak for marine training in the country.

About K.R.A.Narasiah

After completing a very long and cherished service with Indian Navy, Narasiah  joined Merchant Navy.  He successfully completed First class Certificate of Competency (CoC) both in Steam & Motor.  He was the first marine engineer to take over the position of Chief Mechanical Engineer with Visakhapatnam Port Trust.

 He is also a great writer and an orator both in English & in Tamil, related to Maritime development in India.

 He has been involved as Academic Council Member of various Maritime Training Institutes. 

 He is blessed with two sons, one a Merchant Navy Captain & the other an Automobile Engineer.

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