“Till January of 1972, Pakistan was a flag state of around 40 mercantile ships,” said the vice chancellor of NED University of Engineering and Technology, Abul Kalam. “They have reduced to only ten registered ships.”
Engineer Kalam was speaking at a seminar, organised by the university at Pakistan Marine Academy, at Hawkes Bay Road, to discuss opportunities for academic growth for seafarers. A large chunk of people in the audience was formed by professionals drawn from shipping-related fields.
According to the speakers, there have been multiple reasons for the downturns in the Pakistani shipping industry. The academic qualifications of Pakistani seafarers are not recognised by the Pakistan Engineering Council and are not at par with a four-year engineering degree, said Kalam. “I came to know this when a group of some seafarers from the marine sector approached this university,” he said. “They told us that local engineers face difficulty in getting jobs in the country since their professional qualification is not recognised.”
Hence, Pakistan’s unemployed seafarers look towards ships registered with foreign fleets for employment because there are limited opportunities in the national industry which does not even recognise their skills.
To try and solve their plight, NED university started a conversion course for the seafarers. It allows them to graduate in one or two years, depending on their level of education, with a degree in marine engineering.
However, Kalam explained that the shipping industry was taking a beating globally as well for the last 30 years, except for a short boom from 2003 to 2008. Advances in technology have also led the carrier vessels to be automated, reducing the number of staff required. “In the past, more than 100 crew members had to be employed for each vessel,” said the vice chancellor. “Now carriers can transport up to 15,000 containers with hardly 15 to 30 crew members on board.”
Irfan Mahmood Shaikh, an official of Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, said that without the proper qualification, there was no shortcut for the seafarers in today’s competitive world. Shaikh himself was from the first batch of marine engineers who graduated from the NED conversion course in 2006.
The general secretary of the Marine Academy Old Boys Association, Captain Ali Asghar Khan, highlighted more reasons for the low employment rate of Pakistani seafarers. According to him, international shipping companies in Asia preferred India and the Philippines to register their vessels. “Even Pakistani crew members are excluded because of many reasons - geopolitics, terrorism and conflicts,” he said.
Captain Khan’s association, however, does help fresh graduates from the academy find jobs in shipping companies.
NED university formally acquired a building at the Pakistan Marine Academy this week for the promotion of academic activities related to marine engineering and nautical affairs.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.
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