As they say, a seaman is not just a navigator, but a merchant and a soldier as well. Since time immemorial, ships at sea have attracted the brave and adventurous. This scenario remains unchanged, except for the fact that today ships are safer when compared to those in the times of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. So, if you are not interested in a monotonous nine-to-five job and want to be free of the restraints of life ashore, then a career in merchant navy might be your true calling.
“Shipping is a sunrise industry and there is a huge requirement for manpower. India is one of the shipping hubs and Indians are in great demand. They are considered competent, hard working and have a good attitude towards work. Besides, it is cost-effective to hire Indians,” says Captain Puneet Malhotra, fleet manager, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.
The merchant navy deals with transporting cargo as well as passengers in non-combatant, commercial ships. It has two main divisions: navigation and engineering. These two departments work in sync with each other. A navigating officer (also known as deck officer) performs the following duties — navigating the ship from the bridge in shifts while at sea, ensuring that safety regulations are observed, coordinating cargo loading and discharge operations, supervising the maintenance and upkeep of the ship, and so on. They report to the master, also known as the captain. Modern vessels are much diversified and range from dry bulk carriers, tankers, containers to LPG/ LNG carriers, passenger ships, etc. The engine department is responsible for the smooth functioning of the technical part of the ship.
Marine engineers operate and maintain the propulsion and other systems aboard the vessel.
“Unfortunately, there is not much awareness among students. Very few people know that the merchant navy is a lucrative career option. The mindset of the people, especially parents, is very conservative.
When it comes to choosing merchant navy as a career option for their children, there is a lot of apprehension among parents,” adds Malhotra.
Some of the many attractions of this profession are high income (tax free), quick promotions, long vacations, no expenses whilst on board (high class accommodation and cuisine) and travel around the globe. There is a provision for those on the ship to take their families along. Every port in the world has clubs, internet facilities, satellite phones and cell phones. Thus, one can stay well connected even on board.
“At present, there is hardly any career that can pay such good salaries to young professionals. An 18-year-old cadet, for instance, makes around $500 (tax free) a month. Thanks to good salaries right from the initial stages, one can buy his/her first home much earlier in life. An average seafarer settles down in life by the age of 40. Even later, there are a slew of onshore jobs one can take up, like chartering, logistics-related work, managing the operations of ships, etc,” says Malhotra.
Currently, India accounts for a market share of around 7% of the global maritime personnel. By 2020, this share of the Indian workforce is likely to rise to 9% because of the interest taken by the Indian ministry of shipping and private players.
“There is an acute shortage of quality manpower across the globe. As India’s GDP is expected to grow over 6% in the future, the employment opportunities for Indian students are expected to rise phenomenally in the years to come,” says Captain Vinay Singh, managing director, Anglo Eastern Ship Management.
The job allows for flexibility as professionals can join on contracts. They can choose to decide on the kind of contract they want to get into. It is like a paid vacation. They could sail for seven months, then take a break for two-three months, and join back at ease, in the same company or another. Seafarers get a special kind of passport; even if one does not have a visa of a particular country, he/she can get the visa on arrival.
Offering a word of caution, Malhotra says, “Students must do intensive research about the institute and its placement statistics. One should not fall prey to agencies and their false promises. Aspirants can refer to the website of Directorate General of Shipping for the list of approved colleges.”
Science students from a recognised board/university with physics, chemistry and mathematics (PCM), with not less than 60% marks in aggregate or BSc students (physics, maths, chemistry or electronics) with not less than 60% marks are eligible to apply. Students with BE/BTech degree or an equivalent degree from AICTE/UGC/DEC-recognised colleges can also apply. Applicants should have 60% marks in English as a separate subject, at either Class 10 or Class 12.
Age Limit: Between 17 and 25 years
Physical and Medical Standards: Medically fit as per the standards set by DG Shipping and eyesight 6/6 in each eye without visual aids and normal colour vision
Strong inner self and physically fit with a sporting, adaptive and adjustable attitude
Willingness to take on responsibility, love for adventure and challenges
Urge to strive for higher positions
Intelligence, intuitiveness, willingness to work as a team
Independent and outgoing
Deck cadet: Rs. 20,000 per month
Third officer: Rs. 1.5 lakh per month
Second officer: Rs. 2 lakh per month
Chief officer: Rs. 3.2 lakh per month
Captain: Rs. 4 lakh per month
Interview: Nagi Maninder Singh, third officer, Anglo Eastern Ship Management
‘There is no room for mistakes’
Why did you choose to become a merchant navy officer?
I never wanted to do a regular nine to five job or follow the herd mentality of becoming a doctor or engineer. Besides, entering such fields involves adhering to a fixed routine, where you can hardly make time for yourself. On the other hand, merchant navy offers opportunities like travelling around the world, long holidays, doing something useful and unusual, for a handsome salary. So, this was more of a default choice. In this globalised world, more than 90% of the world trade only happens through sea. Thus, merchant navy officers form the backbones of this whole system to ensure its safe operation.
Do you think students/parents still prefer regular options like medicine and engineering?
This is due to lack of awareness among students and parents. But with the growing reliance on the internet, awareness is just a click away. So, the trend is changing. With new policies introduced by the government to allow entry of private players in this field, there has been tremendous development in the standards of training.
Could you offer insights into the life of a merchant navy officer?
Our lives are governed by determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort. In our field even a small mistake could result in grave consequences. With just 21 people on a ship, each one has his own duty which must be performed in a safe and systematic manner.
What is the job like? Also, tell us about the perks and facilities.
Basically, we are like caretakers of the cargo and the ship. Our job is to safely navigate the vessel from point A to B, through high seas and confined waters. In Anglo Eastern group, where I am currently employed as a third officer, a trainee officer gets around Rs. 25,000 per month, a third officer gets around Rs. 1.6 lakh to Rs. 2 lakh per month, a second officer gets around Rs. 3 lakh per month. At the next level is the chief officer who earns Rs. 4 lakh per month, before being promoted as a captain. At this level, one can get anything between Rs. 4.5 lakh and Rs. 6.5 lakh per month. Moreover, you attain an NRI status, there are no tax deductions on your salary and you can take your family on board.
What are the pros and cons?
As I said earlier, a big plus is the win-win situation for people associated with this profession. But you have to follow strict rules and regulations to maintain safety and prevent pollution which could have disastrous effects on the entire marine ecosystem. You need to be on your toes all the time and there is no room for mistakes.
What is the scope in this field?
There are immense opportunities but you need to be in the right shipping company to really benefit from a career in the merchant navy. Since the money involved is huge, some youngsters fall prey to false claims made by non-existent companies. It is important to find a trustworthy shipping company which recruits, trains and guides students all the way from a trainee officer to master (captain).
What is the scenario in India?
Shipping companies in India, mostly, hire merchant navy professionals on the basis of contracts, which remain valid for a duration of six-nine months. Earlier, this was a male-dominated profession, but nowadays even women are joining in.