F R Chowdhury
For last few days I have been watching with interest various news items concerning the above subject. Most of the merchant marine officers including all of the unemployed marine academy trained cadets are opposing issue of CDC to any fisheries academy trained cadets. At the same time fisheries academy trained cadets are demanding CDC the same way it is given to marine academy trained cadets. There have been press conferences and human chain demonstrations at Dhaka and Chittagong by both factions – for and against the issue. Time has come to study and analyse the matter from viewpoints of the national interest.
First of all – what is CDC? It stands for “Continuous Discharge Certificate”. It is a book where services of a seafarer are duly endorsed. It shows the name of the vessel with its IMO number, capacity in which employed, date and place of employment, date and place of discharge. The entries are normally signed by master of the ship and countersigned by manager/ director of the company. In many countries it is customary for such entries also to be authenticated by some government official.
It is in fact a consolidated record of sea-service. It is helpful for the seafarer to show and prove his past experience to prospective new employer to get a job (unless he/ she were permanently employed by a company). For officers it is very important because the cadet or the officer taking a higher certificate of competency examination has to show evidence of having completed required sea-service. However, entries in the CDC (commonly referred to as Discharge Book) are not the only exclusive proof of sea-service. These entries often have to be substantiated by other documents. Since it is prohibited to write anything on the CDC in respect of conduct and behaviour, seafarer requests his employer for separate testimonial in respect of his/ her period of service. The seafarer should be in possession of papers relating to receipt of his/ her wages for the relevant period. The seafarer must also be in possession of Certificate of Medical Fitness and all other certificates/ qualification required for serving in the relevant capacity. In addition all trainees will have Record Books in respect of their shipboard training in accordance with STCW syllabus. All these documentation together will provide complete proof and evidence of his/ her claimed service.
CDCs are meant for ship-wise recording of sea-service. It is not meant to be a travel document. However, in certain countries the authorities accept it as a travel document for the purpose of joining a ship or getting back to home country after discharge from a ship. In such cases the seafarer must have SID (Seafarer’s Identity Document), letter of appointment or testimonials on discharge with account of wages and in some cases copy of agreement (commonly known as Articles of Agreement). On the inner-side of the back-cover it is normally written “this document is primarily meant for recording services performed by the seafarer”. For obvious reasons we do not write that this is not a travel document. However, ILO Conventions require seafarers to be issued with internationally accepted appropriate travel document i.e. international passport.
CDCs are issued to seafarers – both officers and ratings for ages. There has never been a talk of issuing such CDCs to sea-going fishermen. However, the CDC has undergone some transformation. Most maritime nations now call it “Seafarer’s Record Book” or SRB. During my period of service with the Bahamas Maritime Authority, I introduced a new format of Record book. I removed all provisions of endorsement for certificates or qualifications as they are now required to be issued under STCW Convention in their own format. There is certainly no provision for endorsement of foreign exchange or customs baggage allowance. I later found many other countries following the same format.
Now let us come to the question as to who should or should not get it. Discharge book or Record book originates from Article 5 of ILO Convention No.22. It is almost a worldwide practice. So, we have to give this to our merchant marine seafarers. Time and circumstances have changed. We must not blindly follow India, Pakistan or even the United Kingdom. We should look at our own interest. Time has come for us to consider issue of similar (not absolute identical) books to others. However, this should not disturb our national system of training and employment nor should defeat our policy. I shall go to explain in details.
The oil rich Gulf States hire lot of fishermen. Japan and Taiwan also recruit foreign sea-going fishermen. Many other well to do countries recruit them for their domestic or harbour trade vessels. Sometime they insist on “Seamen’s Book” by which they mean Discharge book or Record Book. It will be helpful for our certificated (skippers and engineers) fishermen under STCW-F Convention to have some sort of Record book. They will have advantage over others. This will mean more employment for our people abroad. These books may be called “Record Book (For Sea-going Fishermen)”. However, any demand for issue of the identical document is not acceptable as it will defeat the purpose of having separate rules, regulations, syllabuses or examination system.
In this respect I would like to add a little more. Our Deck Personnel Training Centre and Marine Diesel Training Centre are producing some excellent masters and drivers/ engineers for our inland sector. Again the oil rich Arab countries employ them for harbour and their domestic coastal trade. Some time they even employ them on accommodation barges and tugs. They want “Seamen’s Book” by which they mean Discharge Book or Record Book. Why not issue similar “Record Book for Inland and Domestic Coastal trade”. We must be careful not to use the term “Near-coastal Voyages” as they come under STCW Convention.
Discharge Book or Record Book is not a required qualification for obtaining job. It is given to a person once he/she is employed to record services performed by the individual. I am surprised with the demands for issue of CDC. The demand should be for jobs and employments for which we need more ships on our flag. Regulations made under MSA shall outline criteria for employment. Those who are employed meeting the requirements of the regulations shall be issued with Discharge/ Record book when joining the ship. The Record Book for fishermen should be issued as and when such person joins a seagoing fishing vessel. The Record Book for Inland and Domestic trade should be issued to a person when he/ she obtain highest (deck or engine) certificate under inland vessels certification regulations.
I shall now narrate an incident. It was sometime early 1991 when I was the director general of shipping in Dhaka. As I came out of my office room a man approached me. He said that he availed a Russian scholarship immediately after liberation of Bangladesh where he studied Navigation Engineering. On his return he found his qualification was not recognized in Bangladesh. He managed to get a job in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (as a tug master and engineer). However, because of Saudi change of regulation, they now required a seafarer for the same job. He said he could go back only if he had a CDC. I checked all his papers and then instructed the shipping master to issue him a CDC. I later came to know that this man was promoted as Fleet Maintenance Manager.
Now the question comes if the seagoing fishermen can join merchant ships. Yes, when they obtain Fishing Second Hand Certificate they can try to join a merchant ship as a Trainee Seaman. Within two months they can obtain regulation II/4 certificate and become Navigational Watch-rating. With a total of 6 months service on merchant ships they should be allowed to take II/1 examination to become Navigational Watch-keeping Officer. Those who obtain Fishing Skipper Certificate should be allowed to take regulation II/1 examination after minimum 3 months service on merchant ships.
On the Engineering side there is a bit of complications because of the reference to mechanical and electrical workshop training. However, the Department of Shipping may specify six months workshop training and approve some shipyards for conduct of such training. Persons holding Fishing Class-1 Engineer Certificate may undertake such course and obtain an NOC or Approval from DOS to join a merchant ship as Assistant Engineer/ Apprentice Engineer. These people will perform 18 months sea-service on a merchant ship with Record Book before they can take regulation III/1 examination.
There is no scope to take merchant marine STCW examination without merchant marine service (at least a minimum period specified in national procedure). All persons with fishing or naval background must start from II/1 or III/1 certification and then progress through normal system and procedure. There is no scope for accelerated progress. However, every certificated person/ officer in the merchant navy must be treated equally without any discrimination. Their root or origin whether ex-academy or ex-fishing or ex-naval should not be an issue.
Finally I have to say about one more category of seafarers. There are those who travel abroad (on their passport) and join a foreign flag ship. If any of them meet Convention standards and obtain such training and qualification, they must be issued with Discharge/ Record Book.
This article reflects over 50 years of my sea-related experience. I hope I have explained things clear enough. I also hope this will end the press conferences and human chains. Let us join hands and work together for a better future. We all have potentials that must be utilised. What is required now is for the Administration (Department of Shipping) to issue necessary Notices or Guidance Notes.
London, 16-February-2016 <firstname.lastname@example.org>