by F R Chowdhury 28 September 2019
It was in this month of September, 1962 that the then Pakistan Marine Academy started functioning on the bank of river Karnafuli at Juldia, Chittagong. The primary motive was to provide well groomed and well trained man-power for the ocean going merchant fleet of the country. It is from these experience mariners that we eventually see marine pilots in ports and harbour, managers and superintendents to run shipping companies, teachers and instructors for marine institutes and engineers for shipyards, marine workshops, power plants and oil-gas industry in the off-shore sector. Ex-mariners also serve as surveyors to classification societies and yet others operate private survey and consultancy firms. I have also known ex-mariners changing their profession and becoming lawyers and accountants. In case of war or other emergency navy can find trained personnel to fill its need. In many countries some of the merchant marine personnel are trained and kept in the reserve.
We all know that Britain ruled at one time almost half of the world through its naval and merchant fleet. They had a large merchant fleet. Not surprisingly Britain established the first pre-sea training institutes at Conway and Worcester. They also had structured marine engineering apprenticeship programmes approved at certain major ship-yards for pre-sea engineering training. In early days of Pakistan some of our Bangladeshis availed scholarships to train on those institutes. That is how we were lucky to find some senior mariners to guide us through the early days. Britain had also set-up similar institutes in British-India. They were Dufferin near Bombay and DMET near Calcutta. Commodre Mohammed Asif Alavi, PN, SK, the first commandant of the marine academy and Rear-Admiral M H Khan, former chief of Bangladesh Navy were ex-Dufferin cadets (merchant marine to navy).
In 1971, we inherited the marine academy (now Bangladesh Marine Academy) when the first batch of Juldians were about to go for highest sea-going certificates. Capt. M L Rahman took charge of the academy. Gradually it returned to its glory days. Now in addition to pre-sea training it also conducts preparatory courses leading to certificate of competency examinations. Bangladesh (Department of Shipping) now conducts assessment and certification of seafarers in accordance with IMO-STCW Convention. Today Bangladesh fleet is wholly manned by own nationals and our seafarers are serving on many other ships all over the world. Our mariners are working as marine pilots in many countries. They are there as teachers in academies, managers and superintendents in shipping companies, surveyors and examiners with foreign governments and many of them working for reputable classification societies. Bangladesh marine community can be seen in North America (USA and Canada), Europe (mostly in the UK), Middle-East, Singapore, Australia-NZ and Hong Kong. They hold regional re-unions from time to time. Being a first batch cadet I am much in demand to join them in their celebrations. It is because when they get a first batch cadet they feel they can see the academy as to how the academy started with those first batch cadets. I get very emotional and get tears of joy and happiness to see the outcome of what we started in 1962, Al-hamdulillah.
I am grateful to Sarwar, Zahur and other organizers of the Scotland re-union of 2019 for inviting me to attend. I consider myself very fortunate to be there with some of the best that the academy has produced. It was very well planned and well organized. The Area Commander of the Royal Navy was very kind to provide the venue. He also very kindly graced the concluding dinner as the chief guest. Our Scotland mariners deserve all the praise for this good relationship. I as the senior-most mariner can say that I was very impressed with the conduct and behaviour of every mariner and their family members. This will remain as once in a life time memory.
The re-union gives me the opportunity to write a few words for the better future. It is in the re-union I came to know that the cadets in the academy are required to pay for their victualing/ food. There was no such thing when we joined the academy. It was never the case in Conway, Worcester or Dufferin. In Bangladesh also there is no such system in any of the services academy. This system is not in harmony with disciplined regimental type training where it is supposed to be centrally provided by the government. It is not a place for cadets to pay for and eat what they like. It is a matter of training where cadets must familiarize themselves with different types of food – Greek, Italian, French and Chinese so that cadets can adapt themselves with different life-styles. The system of cadets paying for food must be stopped immediately. Let the academy be run as it was supposed to be.
I also came to know that cadets (rather their parents/ guardians) have to pay to a fund to explore job opportunities for the cadets. It is with this fund that senior officers make foreign trips to explore employment opportunities. Why should the cadets pay for luxury holidays of senior civil servants? This must be stopped. If the government feels any such necessity then it should have appropriate budgetary provision. Cadets must not pay for foreign trips of civil servants.
The academy is now a complete training complex. Senior officers (perhaps even senior to their instructors) would be coming for re-validation courses. The officers’ accommodation must be self-contained apartments – with attached toilet/ shower and kitchen facility so that officers could at least stay with their wives. Necessary modifications must be done immediately. The expenses would in fact be investment because the officers will pay for their accommodation.
I was very upset by seeing a video clip said to have been sent by the commandant. The video is supposed to reflect a day in academy life – focussing on the training. It was also mentioned that it was made in conformity with the diary maintained by a 48th batch cadet. The video focuses on ragging and bullying as if that forms the major part of training. It puts a bad image on the first class training that the academy provides – academic, physical, intellectual and character building. The training is designed in such a way that cadets eventually become knowledgeable, smart, refined and cultured officers. Yes, certain degree of ragging and bullying forms part of the training process because it helps young people to come out intimidation to face the real world. What do you do to a young man who has always been pampered and have never poured a glass of water for himself? Just ask his name in a loud voice and he starts crying. We have to bring them to the real world. But this is not something to glorify about. It is the seniors who guide the juniors. I never expected such a thing to be produced not to speak of sending all the way to reunion gathering with families. It is totally disgraceful. The other thing that caught my attention is the use of the word “royal”. Why should they become royal cadets when Bangladesh is a republic? I request all concerned to destroy this video immediately and never to allow such rubbish material to gain any publicity.
Before I conclude this article I would like to draw attention of the government to certain important matters. If the government thinks that it will establish many more marine academies to supply more seafarers to the global market, it is mistaken. If it was that easy then many other countries would have already done it. Cadets trained in the academy require training berths on ships to complete mandatory minimum sea-service so that they can take certificate of competency examination. Without a competency certificate there is no market value. Ship-owners and operators require certificated officers to run their ships. They are not so keen to train cadets when they can easily hire certificated officers. Only very reputable companies would also recruit cadets to train them as officers the way they want. That is why it is important for Bangladesh to have a sizeable fleet of its own to employ the cadets and train them as officers to get jobs on foreign ships. It is a complex matter that requires assessment and planning. The cadet intake should be proportionate to demand. We must provide training berth to all cadets trained in the academy. Surplus cadets roaming around in the streets looking for job is not a good thing. We must not destroy the future of young people with all the potentials. Marine academy provides industry oriented training that cannot be utilized elsewhere. That is why it is important to train just the right number of cadets. It is a national matter and viewed accordingly. This matter must not be viewed as a part of regional development.
Seafarers are required to travel on short notice (either to join a ship or to repatriate home) and that is why they are normally allowed to pass through without visa so long they are in possession of passport and other relevant documents (appropriate for seafarers) to justify the intended travel. But that is not the case with Bangladeshi seafarers. They are not allowed this privilege. In some foreign ports they are not even given normal shore-leave which is supposed to be a basic right for every seafarer. We are not only humiliated as a nation but it also drastically reduces our job opportunities because ship-owners will employ those who can move quickly without any hindrance. The matter has been brought to the notice of all concerned but so far the government failed to do anything in this respect. Through this article I draw the attention of the highest authorities to kindly do something about it. Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Dubai, Jeddah, Gibraltar and Suez/ Port Said are the ports where crew changes take place. As a first step our Foreign Minister should ask our missions in those places to take up the matter with respective government and come to some arrangements that will satisfy the host country. Host country may demand passport, seafarers’ identity document, seafarers’ service record book, seafarers international health certificate, seafarers’ certificate appropriate for the rank/ capacity, copies of correspondence from owners and local agents regarding joining a vessel or being repatriated home, account of wages in case of being signed off etc. If some MOU is signed outlining the requirements then that can be followed.
Bangladeshi seafarers face problems not only abroad but also at home. Without going into details I shall request the ministry of finance and our board of revenue to kindly –
- Allow Bangladeshi seafarers to have foreign currency dollar account in banks in Bangladesh;
- Bangladeshi seafarers who spend more than 6 months outside Bangladesh in a financial year should be exempted from Bangladesh taxes; They should be allowed to write the same in the declaration form and provide documentary evidence; and
- Bangladeshi seafarers should be allowed to invest in Wage Earners Development Bond.
Remember, if we do not provide these facilities the seafarers will likely resort to illegal means. It is better to provide justified facilities so that they work within our legal system to the greater benefit of the country.
Our concern on these matters is very genuine without any political bias. Who can have more love for this profession, community an institute than the pioneer mariners? It seems nobody cares for our views. In a democratic country important decisions are always made through public consultation. In the United Kingdom it is a requirement to mention in the pre-amble of any new rules/ regulation (secondary legislation) that the secretary of state (in our case the relevant minister) has consulted all concern. The term “all concerned” includes associations, unions and other professional bodies. In Bangladesh we have a Merchant Marine Officers’ Association with its office bearers elected through proper democratic process. We also have Bangladesh chapter of international professional organizations such as the Nautical Institute (NI) and Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMAREST) and these bodies are in a position to provide impartial advice beneficial for the country.
The future of Bangladesh is closely linked with sea. Maritime sector is very important to us. My final request to the government is to kindly call a conference of ship-owners, seafarers’ association and union, professional bodies and training institutes and discuss the matter. Collective decisions must be taken after evaluating all possibilities. Beneficial projects must be executed in a manner that can meet the challenge of the international market because we are looking for employment of our seafarers on Bangladeshi as well as foreign flag ships. It is always better to drop a non-beneficial project at an early stage. Delay will cost the nation dearly. Let us do things in a democratic process to prove that we are genuinely a democratic country.
London, 10-September-2019. <email@example.com>