Merchant Navy


Merchant Navy
The opportunity to travel around the world and the lure of high salaries attracts many youngsters to a career in the Merchant Navy. This feature describes the profession, how to get into it and the promotion avenues. Usually, young people are attracted by the glamour of travelling the high seas, but it is good to know what actually the job entails. It also describes what to expect and the avenues after spending some years on the ship.

A career in the merchant navy is considered a glamorous one, especially by young people who have the travel bug. It offers an opportunity to visit new and exotic places all over the world, and the salaries are also very high. For many young people, a life of travel and adventure holds a unique charm and that is the reason that many of them look for a career in the merchant navy.

What is merchant navy? It consists of various types of ships such as tankers, cargo and passenger ships. It is different from the navy in the sense that it offers commercial services, as opposed to the navy, which is involved in the defence of a nation. Companies that run merchant ships require trained people who can operate and maintain the ships. Some of these are: Chevron and Mobil of USA, Wallem Ship Management of Hong Kong, Denholm of UK and a host of Norwegian companies. India too has its shipping companies, such as the Shipping Corporation of India, Great Eastern Shipping, Essar and Chowgule Shipping. Merchant Navy is the backbone of international trade, carrying cargo across the globe. Without the merchant navy, much of the import-export business would grind to a halt!

Trained people are required for the three main departments of the shipthe deck, the engine and the service department. There are, thus, many career options that are available for any youngster that has dreams to join the merchant navy. The deck officers include the captain, chief officer, second officer, third officer and other junior officers. Deck staff is responsible for navigating, supervising cargo and passengers. The engine department consists of the chief engineer, radio officer, electrical officer and junior engineers. They are responsible for the engines and other mechanical and electrical equipment. The service department manages the kitchen, laundry, medical and other services. Thus, another way of getting into the merchant navy could be by doing a course in hotel management and catering.

Salary: The starting salary varies between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month. A person gets a variety of benefits such as free food, accommodation, paid leave, two-way free passage and facilities for families. In other words, the salary can be saved totally while one is on ship. The perquisites include bonus, holiday travel and other annual benefits. Foreign companies pay higher, and a starting salary of         $ 1,500 to $ 2,500 can be expected. Since the job involves going abroad for extended periods, one can take advantage of becoming an NRI and earn tax-free income.

The entry level for a fresh Marine Engineer (ME) is at the rank of fifth engineer or junior engineer. Promotions depend on examinations and a steady performance. The fourth engineer must have completed 18 months of sea time and clear the examination (conducted by Marine Mercantile Department, Government of India) to be promoted to the rank of third engineer. At each stage, exams have to be cleared and after many years of experience, one may hope to become the chief engineer, the highest rank that an ME can reach. At this level, salary may reach Rs 1.50 lakh per month. Some people achieve this by mid-30s. The chances of promotions are quite wide, though it may be mentioned that there are no higher positions after becoming the captain of a ship. There could, thus, be some stagnation at this level.

How to apply: A merchant navy aspirant can do the 3-year B.Sc (National Science) course or the 4-year Marine Engineering course at the TS Chanakya, Mumbai and Marine Engineering Research Institute (MERI), Calcutta. The first is a navigation discipline course while the second is an engineering course. The eligibility is class 12 with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Admission is through the IIT joint Entrance Examination (JEE-2000), the screening test of which is scheduled to be held on January 2, 2000 and main examination on May 7, 2000. Application forms can be obtained from Chairman, JEE of any IIT and some designated banks from August 2, 1999 to September 13, 1999. Candidates will also have to fill forms for TS Chanakya and MERI, which are available from: Director General of Shipping, Jahaz Bhawan, WH Marg, Ballard Estate, Mumbai - 400 038.

Candidates have to be unmarried Indian citizens (male or female). After clearing the test, there is an interview and a medical test. Normal vision is required but glasses upto plus or minus 2.5 may be allowed. There are some private institutes which offer training for merchant navy as well. These institutes prepare students for jobs such as deck cadets and marine engineering jobs. Look out for notices in the local newspapers for the courses conducted by private institutes.

Becoming a deck cadet: If you have missed the opportunity to do IIT-JEE, the alternative is to do a training to become a deck cadet from a private institute. Some of these institutes have contacts with shipping companies, which normally recruit deck cadets directly. The limitation is that one may not have as fast a promotion that may be offered to a regular marine engineer or a graduate in nautical science.

Aptitude: It is normally believed that the job of a merchant navy officer is a glamorous one. While travel and high salaries are no doubt attractive, an aspirant must assess whether he has the aptitude or not. First, it is a high technology profession. One must not only have engineering aptitude but a feel for technology as well. Second, a person may be on a ship for extended periods of time, without family. This could become lonely and may cause stress. Further, if one gets sea-sick, a career in the merchant navy is hardly the correct option. It may also be kept in mind that if you have an aversion to exams, you may find promotions difficult to come by. Finally, one would have to be a calm person and not prone to panic: a person managing a ship would have to keep calm in the case of rough seas and storms, or if the engine fails. Working hours could be irregular; one could be sailing for nine months in a year, with a minimum duty of eight hours a day. Working areas could also be cramped, with little social life. It is only on the bigger passenger ships that one can meet other people, but for many cargo ships, it means spending months only with the crew members. So, one must be prepared for the rugged life.

Training: The four-year training is a rigorous one and prepares a young person for crisis management besides imparts skills required for the ship. In the first year, one learns basics of engineering, electrical and electronics. The next year, cadets learn about the engine room, the machines and instruments used for sailing. Candidates will also have to attend workshops at the Mazagaon docks, the Indian Naval Dockyard and the Bombay Port Trust. This is essential because of the rule that all MEs must have two years of workshop training in government-authorised centres. The other organisations where training can be done are the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Central Inland Waterways Transport Corporation. The third and fourth year are devoted to studying engineering. Students learn about the internal combustion engine, the diesel power-house and other technical aspects.

In the final year, students learn management including operations management, naval architecture, marine auxiliaries and electricity, geography, ship construction and marine systems design. MERI is equipped with instrumentation, automation and simulators. Students are trained to meet challenges on the sea. Discipline, dedication and the ability to work under pressure are all required from a good sailor. These days, working in a computerised environment are an added training that one must go through and some jobs may have become easier because of this. However, one must be constantly alert to warning systems to avoid any mishap.

Prospects beyond marine engineering: Training in marine engineering does not limit you to ships. After putting in several years of service, many sailors retire with a good savings and opt for land-based jobs or start a business. The normal age of retirement would be mid-30s or early forties, when a person feels the need to settle down with family. Openings would exist in the power plants, electrical and electronics industry, ship-building industry, etc. Many marine engineers become consultants to international shipping lines or join companies providing maintenance and other services to ships.