MYANMAR is losing out on job opportunities for skilled seamen, despite a high vacancy rate in the industry, because of a failure to produce enough trained professionals.
Myanmar seamen are traditionally valued in international shipping companies for their skills, discipline and seamanlike qualities. But the country is now producing only about 500 trained seamen a year – while competitors like the Philippines are producing 10,000.
There are several reasons for the shortage, said U Phone Myint Lu, the president of the Myanmar Seafarer Employment Association (MYANSEA).
“International shipping lines are very familiar with Myanmar seamen. But now there is a shortage of candidates. We can’t find people who have completed the necessary requirements,” he said.
Seafaring work requires long hours and hard work, and the pay is not considered high. There is a risk of accidents, and compensation is not certain. Seafarers also spend long periods away from home.
“Recruitment would certainly be easier if the main shipping lines paid more money and provided better conditions to seafarers,” said U Phone Myint Lu.
Myanmar seafarers wishing to qualify as deck officers or engineers have a choice of two professional schools: Myanmar Maritime University and the Institute of Marine Technology. But between them, these two schools produce only 250 to 300 officers a year, said U Min Zaw, the joint secretary of the Myanmar Overseas Seafarer Association (MOSA).
He said only about half of Myanmar’s known seafarers – 30,000 out of 60,000 – were currently employed. The areas of greatest shortage were senior engineer officer and chief of deck.
“It takes at least three months to qualify for the promotion test, and they must pay exam fees out of their salaries. That is one factor in the skill seamen shortage,” he said.
“No one can be promoted without spending the time. But most seafarers won’t use their time to prepare for the exam. The exams are set in accordance with International Maritime Organisation regulations and is very strict. It’s hard to get promoted,” said U Min Zaw.
U Phone Myint Lu said the shortage affected not only officer positions but also other ranks such as bosun, wiper, oiler, carpenter and deck cadet. Those are the ranks that need to be filled to solve the seaman shortage.
“We earn a basic salary of $500 a month. Although we know officers make more, we can’t do the exam because it costs too much and we need to save money,” said U Zaw Win, 40, an old service seafarer.
“Most shipping companies need experienced seamen for cruises and they don’t want to have to train beginners. We will encourage the local representatives of shipping lines to recruit newly qualified seamen,” said U Phone Myint Lu.
Seamen with one year of service qualify to take the IMO promotion exam. The problem is that the shipping lines won’t take inexperienced seamen – so newly qualified seafarers cannot get enough time at sea to take the test.
MOSA is offering proficiency training not only for officers but also for newly qualified seamen in order to overcome the shortage, said U Min Zaw. The organisation offers short courses for ship security officer (SSO) and ship security awareness (SSA). “Another reason for the shortage is that Myanmar does not have internal cruise lines. In Indonesia and the Philippines there are luxurious private shipping lines offering cruises in national waters,” said U Phone Myint Lu.
MYANSEA plans to offer proficiency training for seafarers starting October.