Maritime education and training is a vital element in the journey to make Sri Lanka a maritime hub. Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA) has highlighted the importance of capacity-building in the industry in numerous press articles and forums, and has always encouraged its members to invest in human capital. This article will reflect on the contribution made by seafarers to the Sri Lankan economy, and the opportunities that exist in maritime education.
ITF praises Sri Lankan maritime schools
London-based Inspector from the International Transport Federation (ITF) Steven Trownsdale has commended the Sri Lankan maritime schools and academies in Sri Lanka, and has stated that the facilities available in Sri Lanka are of a very high standard compared to similar academies in the region. This was stated during a tour of local maritime facilities in March, on the invitation of the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS). He urged the Government to take more steps to enhance this sector at the very earliest. He added that despite the high standards of the maritime academies in the country, the presence of Sri Lankan seafarers in the international fleet was much less in number when compared with those from other Asian countries.
CASA, the voice of the shipping industry, would like to congratulate its member academies for displaying these high standards and receiving commendation from the ITF.
In 2015, seafarers have contributed over $200 million per annum to the economy. Seafarers attract a higher income than any other Sri Lankan expatriate staff in the same level. For example when a domestic aide brings in a monthly income of close to $300, a seafarer at entry level would attract a monthly income close to $1,000. At the rank of Officer and Captain, the salary scale is significantly higher. Therefore, by promoting Sri Lanka as a hub for seafarer recruitment, the economy can expect a higher contribution. Foreign exchange earnings, employment opportunities, and increased domestic spending would have a profound impact to the Sri Lankan Economy. CASA has played a leading role, through its members, by engaging in training and development of seafarers, making them employable, and finding them employment opportunities.
The demand for seafarers will keep growing over the next 10 years with the growth of global trade. Expansion of the Panama Canal has also resulted in a demand for larger vessels, which results in an increase in demand for seafarers. The Philippines has emerged as the biggest supplier of seafarers on international merchant ships, followed by China, Indonesia, Russia and the Ukraine. A research report prepared by BIMCO (Baltic and International Maritime Council) says of the 1,647,500 seafarers, the Philippines is the leading supplier of ratings (low/semi-skilled maritime workforce).
However, there is a shortage of marine officers in the world and the shortage is expected to increase over time. The forecasted shortage of officers will grow from 16,500 in 2015 to 147,500 by 2025.
The role of a seafarer has also changed over time. The adjustment in working practices from the ‘command and control’ system at sea to the more collaborative management style, and the technological disruptions in the maritime sector, would require the seafarer to be equipped with a different skill-set. For example, with the introduction of autonomous ships, ship navigation can happen ashore and will change the dynamics of the profession.
Seafarer training in Sri Lanka: opportunities and challenges
Sri Lankan employees are hailed globally for their work ethic and overall conduct, and therefore, Sri Lanka is preferred for talent sourcing. This is mainly due to the sound education system in the country, which promotes equal opportunity for education, and our unique culture, which has moulded work ethics such as teamwork, reliability, dedication, honesty, and integrity. This quality workforce is the greatest asset that should be capitalised by Sri Lanka.
CASA member-institutes engage in training and development of seafarers while complying with the standards of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and therefore, is recognised internationally. These institutes are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies such as marine simulators, and the qualifications are regulated by the Merchant Shipping Secretariat of Sri Lanka.
Government plays an active role in facilitation and enhancement of employment opportunities in foreign ships for Sri Lankan seafarers, and ensures their safety. With the ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention, the Government will have to be committed to improving labour conditions for Sri Lankan seafarers.
It is important that consistency in policy is maintained by the Government, as regular changes to syllabi, assessments, taxation, etc. will adversely affect seafarer training. Duration of seafarer training is relatively longer, and therefore, abrupt policy changes will not help the industry.
There’s a lot to learn from countries such as the Philippines - the biggest supplier of seafarers. The Philippines government has approved legislature designed to ensure working and living conditions that are consistent with Philippine law and international maritime conventions. Seafarers have the right to a safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards; decent working and living conditions on board a ship; medical care, welfare measures, and other forms of health and social protection; and fair terms and conditions of employment, including salary commensurate to their rank, minimum number of working hours, and rest periods consistent with Philippine or international maritime conventions.
Regular consultation with all stakeholders, including ship owners, institutes, and unions, will help Sri Lanka create a competitive edge in seafarer training and development. Building awareness among Sri Lankans about this lucrative occupation at school level would also attract a wider audience and enhance the economic contribution to the country.