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Dhaka Tribune

Bangladeshi mariners fall behind in global race

Update : 22 Nov 2014, 02:27 AM

Bangladeshi seamen and ex-marine cadets have in recent times been finding it hard to compete in the international shipping sector as they slide down the preference list of recruiters.

Cadets say there are several reasons behind this including visa-related complications and a deterioration of reputation because of certificate forgery by some dishonest Bangladeshis.

There have also been instances where Bangladeshi mariners have illegally stayed back in foreign countries during shipping transit.

Finding jobs in foreign vessels is particularly important for Bangladesh sailors and ex-marine cadets at this time because the number of local vessels – including both government and private – have decreased significantly in recent times.

Many cadets have complained that they failed to join their work on board foreign ships despite having appointment letters, because the foreign visa authorities took too long to give them clearance.

According to Saiful Islam, a junior cadet, Bangladeshi mariners need to wait at least one month for getting visa to board an Indian ship as a crew. While on the other hand, for Indian mariners, getting visa to board Bangladeshi ships does not take more than two to three days.

After some Bangladeshis were caught with fake certificates, the special permit facility known as “okay to board” was withheld. In the past, that permit enabled mariners to fly to a country without visa and join work on a ship anchored in a port in that country.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), who used to award that special permit to mariners, have withheld the facility for Bangladeshis. As a result, the Bangladeshi mariners these days have to get the usual visa for joining work on board foreign ships.

Saiful said some manpower agencies have been providing countrfeit certificates to unskilled Bangladeshi sailors.

Captain Zillur Rahman Bhuiyan, president of the Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers’ Association, told Dhaka Tribune that the visa-related complications had been creating problems for not only fresh cadets but also for the professional seafarers.

“They are facing visa problems in the United Arab Emirates [UAE], Singapore and India – the major employers in the global shipping sector – in particular,” he said.

“We have already the urged the government to strengthen vigilance to stop people from getting jobs abroad with counterfeit certificate of competency [COC] and continuous discharge certificate [CDC]. Moreover, we have called for intensified diplomatic activities to resolve visa issues as early as possible,” he said.

Commodore M Zakiur Rahman Bhuiyan, director general of the Department of Shipping, said they had already taken punitive measures against the fake seamen.

“Moreover, we have already talked to the ministries concerned, including the Foreign Ministry, to fix the visa tangles as soon as possible,” he said. 

Supply-demand mismatch

At present, there are a total of 17 marine academies in the country; of them one is public and the rest are private. In fact, most of these private academies have started functioning only very recently. 

As a result, there has been a sudden momentous rise in the number of marine cadets in the country, at a time when the number of local vessels have declined significantly.

According to the Bangladesh Ship Owners Association, there were as many as 70 Bangladeshi vessels operative in 2012. In 2014 however, that number has come down to only 38, significantly cutting down sources of local jobs for mariners.

Captain Habibur Rahman, general secretary of the association, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Many local ships have been made inoperative because they are more than 30 years old. In addition, many other ships have found it hard to make a profit as their trade was limited in the subcontinental waters.”

On October 23, a group of ex-marine cadets of the state-run Bangladesh Marine Academy held a press conference in Chittagong where they urged the government to postpone admissions in some of the private institutions because supply had been way above demand.

Out of the 313 cadets, who have graduated from the Marine Academy in December last year, 170 were still to find any job, they said in the press conference.

Getting jobs would be even tougher when 256 more fresh graduates from the government academy and 500 more from the private institutions would join the job hunt this year, they said. 

Other problems 

There are allegations that the Bangladeshi shipping authorities do not regularly update the mariners’ verification database that they maintain.

Junior cadet Kamrul Islam, who has completed three voyages so far, told Dhaka Tribune: “I have recently found that my CDC certificate in verification system is not up to date. It shows that I have completed only one voyage whereas in reality, I have already made three voyages on different ships.”

However, shipping department boss Commodore M Zakiur Rahman claimed: “The database of the online verification system is regularly updated with latest information about the cadets. if anyone faces any problem online, just send an email to the on-duty officer and the problems will be fixed.” 

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