DEPARTMENT OF SHIPPING: BASELESS DECISIONS

BASELESS DECISIONS

  • F R Chowdhury      31/5/2018

 

Recently a directive has been issued by the Director General of the Department of Shipping of the Government of Bangladesh for issue of Continuous Discharge Certificate (CDC) to all those who successfully complete their training from the Marine Fisheries Academy. This is a senseless and baseless decision and it shows the severe limitation of knowledge on the part of those connected with the issue of the directive.

To have a better understanding of the matter, it is necessary to know about the history of this document which is issued in the format of a book. ILO Convention No. 22 is known as Seamen’s Article of Agreement Convention, 1926. The purpose of the Convention was to ensure that seafarers cannot be exploited or cheated by ship-owners.   The Convention required seafarers to be signed on an Article of Agreement that would stipulate the seafarer’s role, function and responsibilities against his wages and other privileges. The agreement would be based on all applicable provisions of international treaties relating to seafarer’s hours of work and rest including medical facilities both on board and ashore. Wages are determined periodically by agreement between employer and employees. Article 5 of the Convention requires the Administration to issue such document where services of the seafarer can be recorded. Each entry would show the name and type of ship, capacity in which served, tonnage and propulsion power of the vessel etc. Part (b) of this article strictly forbids any reference to performance i.e. quality of service performed.

The purpose of the agreement is clear – to give basic rights to seafarer in the form of an agreement so that seafarer can take legal action against owners who try to deprive them (seafarers). It is interesting to note that in most countries, in case of court auction sale of a vessel, seafarer’s wages and repatriation cost is set aside on priority basis. The purpose of the document for recording services is to give seafarer an opportunity to record all his services in a chronological manner instead of several paper discharges which could be lost or defaced. Presentation of the document to a prospective employer tells all about the seafarer’s experience. The system worked very well in good old days when seafarers traditionally served on their national ships. In some countries the immigration authorities even allowed the seafarers to join a ship provided they carried a copy of the Agreement and the document showing the date of joining the ship; and similarly allowed the seafarer to travel back to home country provided he had the document showing period of service and the relevant account of wages.

The document containing record of sea-service is known by different names. Many countries call it CDC (Continuous Discharge Certificates). Others call it simply Discharge book. Some countries also call it Record of Sea-service or simply Seafarer’s Record Book. They all refer to the same thing. Now a day it is very common to write on a Discharge Book/ Record Book “The issuing Authority has no objection for services performed on other flag ships to be recorded on this book”. This sort of statement is helpful to the seafarer.

Shipping has changed a lot. Open registers have changed the pattern of their operation. Seafarers from Philippines are serving on ships of different flags all over the world. ILO-MLC-2006 has taken on board all essential ingredients in a manner that they can now be applicable. It still talks about an agreement. The Discharge/ Record Book have become such a common necessity that it still exists.

After discussing all the historical background we now know the reason and purpose of each document. The Discharge/ Record Book is meant for recording services performed by the seafarer. If a person has still not joined a ship and has performed no service then there is no need or no question of a CDC. I remember the day I joined my first ship as a Deck Cadet on 29-September-1963, I was issued with a CDC (with details of first entry). Whether graduating from Marine Academy or Marine Fisheries Academy matters nothing, one does not get a CDC until one signs on the article. This is basic/ fundamental logic.

Now we focus our discussion on a different issue – the purpose of the two different institutes. The Marine Academy started functioning from 1962 with a view to supply well trained officers for the national fleet. Apart from serving the merchant marine, the officers later contribute their services in various other fields such as ports and shipping. Some of them venture into trading business including ship-chartering. Marine engineers develop expertise in both mechanical and electrical engineering. They are sought after in off-shore engineering, power plants and ship-building and ship-repair. The members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) employ a good number of Bangladeshi marine engineers all over the world. Today our mariners are employed across the world engaged in very responsible positions. We feel proud to see national delegations of UK, Canada, Singapore and Australia to the IMO being headed by people of Bangladesh origin. I do not think I have to say anymore about the achievements of marine academy graduates. They hold high the image of Bangladesh all over the world.

Marine Fisheries Academy was set up well after the liberation of Bangladesh to provide well trained officers for our sea-going fishing vessels. It has served its purpose very well. Some of them worked on fishing fleet of other countries as well. Some even joined merchant ships and established themselves in various jobs in seaports in Middle-East countries. The present Director General of Shipping had his earlier training in Marine Fisheries Academy.

Those smart graduates of Marine Fisheries Academy who found their way in the merchant marine have done well. This should be regarded as a transformation and the Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers Association has always accepted them with open arms. In fact there are lot of members of BMMOA who never been to marine academy. Some of them were direct entry and some from the Navy. Once integrated to the merchant marine, they remain united as merchant marine officers with no hatred or enmity based on original root.

However, so far government policy is concerned; it must stick to its aims and objectives. It must not encourage the graduates of fisheries academy to join merchant ships. Otherwise the government policy becomes self-defeating. The Government must not become a party to employing marine fisheries graduates to merchant ships as cadets. The priority of the government should be to ensure that marine academy cadets are employed first. The government must not allow any graduate of marine fisheries academy to join a sea-going merchant ship as a cadet (for the first time) from a Bangladeshi port nor should allow any such person to be signed on an article opened in Bangladesh so long one single marine academy graduate remains unemployed.

Irrespective of being originally a graduate of marine fisheries or direct entry or ex-naval, when a person becomes a certificated officer of the merchant marine, that officer should now be entitled to all other facilities as available to other similar officers. The word “certificated officer” should mean a person holding a Certificate of Competency issued or recognized by Bangladesh.

In the greater interest of the country we may have to be flexible and evolve many new procedures. Some of our inland masters are employed in tugs, barges and launches in Middle-East ports. Some time the employing authority demand to see a Discharge/ Record Book. Why not issue special CDC to such persons stamped as “For employment on harbour or coastal vessel”.

Similarly for employing graduates of fisheries academy if the employment authority insists on Discharge/ Record Book, we can issue special CDC stamped as “For employment on sea-going fishing vessels”.  However, what the government cannot do is to defeat its own policy. If the Government feels that there is no further need for a marine fisheries academy then it should close down the institute. This institute should not be allowed to exist only to destroy the reputation and image of the country built by the marine academy through 56 years of its existence.

Through this article I request the government to kindly review the situation afresh and do what is good for the country. Any damage done by wrong decision becomes so difficult to rectify. Think and decide and not decide and think. I hope I made the issue absolutely clear.

London, 31-May-2018                                                                                    <fazlu.chowdhury@btinternet.com>

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