The life and times of the Bangladeshi mariner | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 17, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:25 PM, June 01, 2015

The life and times of the Bangladeshi mariner

A career in marine engineering is well known in our country nowadays. However, the market for mariners has not been the same. It has been as rollercoaster ride, with its brutal ups and downs. Read on to find out about the path that a cadet takes on his or her journey in the marine life, and the present situation of the job market.

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THE GLORY DAYS

Established in 1962, the Marine Academy, presently known as Bangladesh Marine Academy (BMA), is the first training institute of its kind in the sub-continent. Since, the Marine Academy has consistently supplied quality officers to the national fleet of Pakistan and later Bangladesh.

The academy has also been recognised as one of the branches of the World Maritime University (WMU), Malmö, Sweden in 1989 for its academic excellence, top-notch training, and dependable marine manpower. Bangladesh also made it on the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) white list in the year 2000.

PICKING A SPECIALTY

Students sit for the admission exams at marine academy in July. HSC or A-levels with Mathematics and Physics are the only pre-reqs but undergrads cannot apply after the age of 21. Cadets have to pass the written exam, an extended series of physical tests, as well as the viva voce.

The two streams at BMA are Nautical Science and Marine Engineering. The training period, or the Pre-Sea course, is 24 months long. These two years consist of rigorous schedule in the academy. After a year of experience in the sea as a Deck Cadet or six months as Cadet Engineer, they get their Bachelor of Maritime Science degree.

Nautical Science

Students of Nautical Science, or Deck Cadets, undergo training as an officer on the ship and master the fields of navigation, ship and cargo handling, and maritime law. After obtaining the Pre-Sea Nautical Science certificate, cadets are promoted to the rank of Third Officer, a navigating officer. The next rank is Second Officer who is in charge of passage planning. This is followed by the Chief Officer or the second-in-command of a ship, in charge of cargo work and deck maintenance. After months on the sea, one is finally promoted to the rank of Captain – the representative of the ship's owner and the sole party responsible for the ship.

Marine Engineering

The marine engineering stream starts with the rank of Cadet Engineer. The trainee engineer usually reports back to the Second Engineer and their main task is to learn by assisting their seniors. The Fourth Engineer comes after and is responsible for electrical and sewage treatment, the oil and water separation system and other tasks. The Third Engineer is in charge of boilers, engines, fuel and feed system, while the Second Engineer is second-in-charge of the engine room after the Chief Engineer. The Chief Engineer looks after the operations and maintenance of all machinery and operations on the ship.

NAVIGATING THE JOB MARKET

Marine engineering does not have a job market as constant as that of say business graduates. Students who'd set their sights on making some foreign cash and having an adventurous career were horribly disappointed when the job market hit a low in 2013. Why this sorry state for such a lucrative career that makes up to BDT 600 crore in remittance each year for Bangladesh? Political unrest since the 2000s and agencies sending illegal and unqualified workers to the Middle East in 2009 have made employers abroad wary of the green passport. A senior mariner and Chief Engineer states, “I have worked in Singaporean company for many years. In the early days, we did not need any visa to go to Singapore, but in 2002, I needed to get a visa to work in Singapore. When I was working as Crewing Manager in 2012, there were many cadets and junior officers from China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc. I advised the authorities to recruit from Bangladesh. Their answer was that they would go through the trouble for a Chief Engineer or Captain but not for a Third Mate or a junior officer. “ 

MAKING A COMEBACK

The marine industry is a rewarding sector for incoming remittance for the country and this market is actually under-served. Despite this fact, the average number of cadet recruits which used to be 60 to 100 has risen to about 300, outstripping the market demand.  Concerned authorities in public and private institutes need to forecast the market demand before setting the  recruitment limit. 

Academy grads need to do a 12 month-long on-board seamanship to get their final certificate. Since the present job market has become very disappointing for the mariners, more and more fresh grads are waiting for up to a year to get on a ship, complete the year-long training, and get their final certificate. But, if they were given a certificate straight after the academy life, then they wouldn’t have to wait to board a ship - they could go straight for higher education or an MBA. 

Private institutes cannot truly promise a degree due to inefficiency, the huge number of students, and low market demand. The government also needs to simplify the visa application process and take essential legal measures so that overseas placement can be facilitated. At the end of the day, the mariner community holds the most important responsibility of all – to re-brand our country via the excellence of their service and professionalism. 

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