Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Smart Skills
Merchant Navy offers sea of choices
Usha Albuquerque

Join the Navy to see the world, says an old song. Today, that would translate to mean the Merchant Navy. If you would like to see new places, are interested in a life of adventure, and are willing to spend long periods of time away from home, the Merchant Navy is just the career for you. The Merchant Navy is a non-combatant, commercial fleet which deals with transporting cargo and sometimes passengers, by sea from one part of the world to another.

There are three main areas of activity within the Merchant Navy ó navigation, handled by navigating officers, engineering and radio and wireless communication.

Navigation: The chief navigator of the ship is the captain, who decides the course of the voyage and manoeuvers the vessel under adverse weather conditions and emergencies. The captain exercises complete control over the officers, crew and any passengers on board the ship. Other navigating officers assist him in navigation.

Engineering: Marine engineers are responsible for the operation and maintenance of all installations, including electrical and refrigerating machinery, the main engines, auxiliary machinery and safety equipment. They also supervise repairs at sea and overhauls in ports.

Radio officers: They operate and maintain the wireless equipment for receiving and transmitting messages.

In addition to these main areas of activity, there is the service department that handles the maintenance of living and catering services for officers and crew on board a ship.

Taking the plunge

There are two routes to joining the merchant navy.

On completion of B.Sc. in nautical science or a Bachelorís degree in mechanical or marine engineering, you can join the navigation or marine engineering areas of the Merchant Navy.

After 10+2 with physics, chemistry and mathematics, you can join as a deck cadet on board a ship, and train on-the-job for three years before appearing for the competency examination required by the Ministry of Surface Transport in order to be employed as a navigating officer.


You should also be mentally and physically fit, and be within 20 years of age (25 years for SC/ST candidates). A career in the Merchant Navy also requires great mental and physical stamina, intelligence, and a scientific temper to go along with a cheerful disposition and team

Navigators should have perfect eyesight, whereas marine engineers are allowed to wear spectacles for eyesight up to plus/minus 2.5. Colour blindness is a disqualification for the merchant navy.

The two premier institutions for imparting training for the Merchant Navy are:

TS (Training Ship) Chanakya, Mumbai, which conducts a 3-year degree course in nautical science.

The Marine Engineering and Research Institute (MERI), Kolkata, and Mumbai, which offers a 4-year training in marine engineering.

Admission to these courses is open to unmarried Indian male and female students, and conducted through the common entrance examination of the IIT-JEE.

Entrance test

After qualifying the screening test of the IIT, those keen to pursue the career in Merchant Navy, as a Deck Officer, have to fill up an application form which is available at Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai, and at the selected branches of Syndicate Bank all over India. The advertisement for this, is published in leading newspapers of the country in the months of July and December every year.

The entrance examination, which is a combination of the objective and subjective-type of questions, assesses your knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics of the plus two or equivalent standard. After the written test a merit list is prepared. Although a student may express his/her preference for one course of training or the other, the final distribution of the candidate between the two courses of training is at the discretion of the Director-General of Shipping. The written test is followed by an interview which is basically a test of personality.

The Training Ship (TS) Chanakya, Mumbai, conducts a three-year training course in the theoretical and practical aspects of nautical science for navigating officers.

The marine engineering course at MERI provides exposure to the fundamental engineering sciences together with specialised knowledge of theoretical and practical marine engineering. Cadets are given lessons on overhaul, repair and maintenance of the shipís main and auxiliary machinery and shipboard systems. Technology classes are held in advanced marine engineering and technology.

In addition to government training institutes, there are number of private training institutes which are conducting pre-sea courses for nautical science as well as engineering candidates both for plus two students and engineering candidates. Private institutions hold their own entrance tests, for which the minimum requirement is 50-60 per cent in plus two with physics, chemistry and maths. On completion of the training and required sea time on ships, the students have to appear for the competency examination, which enables them to be employed on board Merchant Ships. It is necessary for all candidates to obtain a Certificate of Competency from the Directorate-General of Shipping, Government of India. The certificates are recognized and respected by all the countries.

Direct recruitment

There is yet a third route for entering the Merchant Navy. Shipping firms/lines, from time to time, recruit deck cadets directly after school and train them for a marine career. Minimum eligibility to apply for deck cadets is a pass in plus two or equivalent examination with physics, chemistry and mathematics.

Shipping lines also recruit marine engineers. Those with BE qualifications are taken in directly after they complete an eight-month attachment with a naval dockyard in Mumbai, Cochin, Calcutta or Visakhapatnam. Unlike the marine engineers from MERI, these candidates have to pass an additional competency examination.

Placement prospects

After completing the three-year nautical science programme and acquiring the certificate of competency of second mate (foreign going) you can join an Indian or international shipping company as third/second officer on board a merchant ship. After several years of service and completion of higher examinations, namely, first mate ((FG) and master (FG), you can get the certificate of competency as master (FG) which entitles an officer to become the captain of a merchant ship.

The competence examinations for navigating officers and for the marine engineers are conducted by the Ministry of Surface Transport through the Directorate-General of Shipping (DGS), Mumbai.

The merchant navy offers bright prospects to navigating officers and marine engineers. Their starting salaries are in the region of Rs. 30,000 to Rs.40,000 per month. In foreign shipping, companies salaries are often higher and paid in foreign currency.

Money matters

Pay and perks differ from company to company. Emoluments are much higher on a foreign vessels, specially the West European, US, and those from the Gulf. Every officer and crew of the Merchant Navy working on board a vessel which is carrying foreign cargo is entitled to draw 75 per cent of his net earning in foreign exchange. This is a major privilege and a vital perk of this profession. Besides the foreign currency, imported liquor, cigarettes, canned foods, cosmetics, etc are available on board duty free. This facility adds, though artificially, to the actual wages. In addition to the hefty pay and allowances, both officers and the crew receive free meals on board. They are also entitled to a four-month leave every year. And lastly, once you reach a certain seniority, you are also entitled to take your family on board during the voyages.

The prospects of promotion are directly linked to passing of the requisite competency examinations conducted by the Ministry of Surface Transport through the DGS. Salaries rise with promotions and enterprising officers may gain their promotions very early in life.

While life on board a ship can be monotonous and lonely, most modern ships are built with every convenience to minimise the tedium. There are spacious lounges, TV rooms, a range of recreational facilities, and comfortable family accommodation for senior officers who can bring along their families.

This is, however, primarily a career for men.

Training talk

Some private training institutes for the Merchant Navy are:

  • Academy of Maritime Education and Training, 3/4/5Ambedkar Street, Gandhinagar, Saligramam, Chennai-600093.

  • National Institute of Port Management, East Coast Road, Uthandi, Chennai-600096

  • The National Institute of Port Management has been set up by the Ministry of Surface Transport to further the process of maritime education in India. Actively supported by International Maritime Organisation (IMO) London, UNCTAD, Geneva, and other UN agencies, the institute started conducting regular courses in 1990.

  • International Maritime Institute, 13 Institutional Area, (Distt. Gautam Budh Nagar), Surajpur Kasna Road, Greater Noida, UP.

  • Chandigarh Mariners Institute, SCO 92, Level II, Sector 35-C, Chandigarh.

  • National Institute of Technical Education 17, Technology House, Stadium Road Attawa, Sector 42-B, Chandigarh.

(The list is not exhaustive)

The writer is a noted career expert