Thursday, 21 January 2016 - 14:47
Sri Lankan Seafarers- The Opportune Moment



Professor (Capt.) Nalaka Jayakody continuous to urge authorities, government and the people of Sri Lanka to tap into the enormous opportunities of seafaring by investing, collaborating and promoting the profession both locally and globally. With the country being strategically positioned and blessed in abundance of resources with access to affordable first-class maritime training, Sri Lanka needs to strive and thrive to leverage and be a top maritime nation recognized for its quality seafarers. This will not only result in increasing employment opportunities but also enhance and uplift the country’s foreign remittances and living standards.

Sri Lanka is a blessed maritime nation

I personally think that we are under-utilizing resources that are presently available in the country. Despite having many offers from overseas I still stay back to give my maximum contribution for the development of Sri Lanka’s maritime sector. I have authored articles which I believe are not controversial but thought-provoking expert views. I believe it’s my responsibility to address and make all stakeholders aware of this.

My qualifications and experience are a handful in the world and there is hardly anybody who possesses them in this region. My focus primarily is of two areas- maritime and academic. With experiences earned in over 90 countries in the world, in my opinion, Sri Lanka is blessed with resources unlike any other country but unfortunately we haven’t really harvested and nurtured.

As far as I’m concerned, since the beginning of time from having achieved independence through to successfully ending the civil war and the post-era, I haven’t seen any focus on producing and promoting seafarers which is one of the lucrative professions in the world today. It’s a multi-million dollar industry which demands proper attention of authorities through which Sri Lanka can benefit both socially and financially.

 Present status of seafarers and dominant counties

The entire world depends on shipping as ninety percent of world trade is done by ships. The worldwide population of seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships (50,000) is estimated to be 1.2m, in the order of 470,000 officers and 730,000 ratings. Western world used to remain to be important and dominant crew supplying nations. While the increasing development of the maritime sector occurs, the costs to maintain ships and especially crew too considerably increase which made the dominant countries look for maritime labor at low cost. As a result of this, the shipping industry’s crews were recruited mostly from developing countries such as Philippines and India with many seafarers having the opportunity to serve on foreign flag ships. Recently, countries in the Eastern Europe region such as Ukraine, Croatia and Latvia are experiencing a growth in supplying seafarers.

30 percent of seafarers are from Philippines. Out of the 1.2m mariners in the world, Philippine is the top supplier of seafarers globally. Sri Lanka can definitely be the next big supplier in the industry provided the authority extends due attention and concern on this.

Why Sri Lanka should produce seafarers to the world?

Sri Lanka is a maritime nation, however we have only repaired or patched-up ships so far and have not gone beyond that to leverage present resources in this particular area to uplift industry and economic standards rather the country has focused on preliminary options by sending the unskilled abroad, mainly to Middle East which does not generate significant or considerable benefits to our country and nation, socially or financially.

I believe in the saying “one seafarer sent to the sea equals to a hundred unskilled persons to the Middle East, in terms of income.” Once a seafarer joins and move up the career ladder, he or she would be making seven digits in five or ten years even before the age of 30. I firmly wish this would be an eye-opening saying to authorities and our nation.

Sri Lanka has a higher literacy rate and Sri Lankans’ foreign language knowledge compared to that of other countries is also equally higher. It’s also neutral with many nationalities working and living together in harmony and peace unlike some countries where there are issues within the border.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has missed opportunities as a result of being late to realize and implement them. However, the seafarer profession is an enormous and blissful opportunity to the country right now and we have to act from now onwards to harvest it rather than being too late.

How the East rose as the world’s manning capital

During those days, the industry was dominated by the western region such as Britain, Europe, and the US. When the region developed and uplifted their GDP, the manpower cost required to run the ships began to skyrocket. This resulted in ship owners to look at alternative countries where manpower is accessed more cheaply.

This is where the East comes to the spotlight. A staggering 30pct of the world seafarers today are supplied by Philippines followed by other Eastern countries. Approximately $6billion remittances were sent in by sea-based Filipino workers annually to uplift their GDP. Thus it is obvious how financially potential the maritime field is!

Despite being a small country, it’s really thriving to uplift its living standards just by seafaring and shipping. In comparison, Sri Lanka so far has about 16,000 active seafarers (3,700 officers and 12,300 ratings) and at any given time only around 5,000 of them are sailing on board.

Sri Lanka is well equipped to produce and promote seafarers

Sri Lanka today has many specialized institutions in Maritime Education and Training (MET) and it’s suffice to train and produce qualified and disciplined seafarers to the world. In fact we have a surplus because we have 16,000 of them actively but only around 5,000 are on-board at any given time. It’s the government’s duty and responsibility to understand the potential of this profession and find more ships to accommodate the surplus and continuously thrive to produce more seafarers.

The responsible officials have to visit major ship-owning countries such as Greece, Japan, Germany, Singapore, Norway, etc to discuss and enter into agreements and MoUs because Sri Lanka is fully recognized and accredited by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized United Nations agency which acts as the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping, and also European Maritime Safety Agency (ESMA), an agency providing technical assistance and support to the European Commission and Member States in the development and implementation of EU legislation on maritime safety, pollution by ships and maritime security.

This exhibits the qualifications, experience and standards we possess in seafaring but unfortunately not much marketing and promotion is being done at an international level. Due to this, countries such as Philippines, India, China, Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan are at an advantageous position. Sri Lanka is not too late to get its act together. My vision is to see Sri Lanka being recognized as a qualified crew supplying country which drives a great demand from the international market.

The government should play the major role

The government should have a national plan and policy framework which is very strategic and with a long-term focus, and that which does not change when the government or relevant officials change. In my opinion, the decision makers should be equipped with subject knowledge and not be a complete stranger to the field, whether it’s in the government or private sectors, not just in the maritime industry but in many others.

In some instances, the decision maker is qualified and experienced in the subject but the subordinates are not. Then there is also an instance where both decision maker and subordinates possess subject knowledge and ambitious in their drive but the relevant government agencies and authorities are lacking approvals or limiting certain steps. For the industry to flourish, every unit has to work with each other and together with a long-term vision.

Sri Lanka seeks for advices and consultation from foreign experts despite having much better ones locally. This is because they think they aren’t qualified or self-sufficient which is not the case. We not only always benchmark other countries but are also very slow in its process. I don’t believe we have to benchmark and wait for things to happen because the country possesses many individuals who are qualified, experienced and have the will to do.

It’s extra challenging to be a seafarer and rise up the ladder. Many seafarers produced by Sri Lanka are working overseas such as Australia and Europe simply because the country has neither recognized this lucrative profession nor do they need their expertise to work for them. A captain of the ship, for example is the highest rank in the profession where he or she is solely responsible for millions Dollars’ worth of cargo which is not an easy task.

With the present resources available, Sri Lanka can do better and bigger tasks with regard to seafaring but it all lies in the will to do so.

How Sri Lanka was then and how it is now in MET?

In the past, Sri Lanka never had a training institution to produce qualified seafarers and many of them had to go foreign countries such as the UK, India, Singapore or Australia. Today we have well recognized programmes in this area and we must take measures to invite and entertain foreign students such as from Asia. Sri Lanka is well placed to be a first-class, neutral and affordable destination for maritime education and training. This very moment is the right moment to open its doors to the world. The authorities have to focus more attention on this, remove certain restrictions, promote the profession both locally as well as internationally and should take steps to work with other countries to enhance and increase placements and job opportunities.

Maritime hub is not just a port; it’s wider in supply, service, and so on. But, if there are no seafarers, there are no ships. What’s the point of having a port if no ship is docking? Similarly, what’s the point of having ships if there are no seafarers? Sri Lanka has to leverage this opportunity and promote the seafarer profession which has enormous demand from the four corners of the world.

Providing your industry expertise to those in need

There was a question for me to address recently. That is to whether I could provide my expertise if the government requires it. Responding to that I said that I’d been to numerous meetings and occasions and given my best but unfortunately they just ended there and never proceeded further to make it happen to be a reality. I’m a professional who even goes to the extent of providing my expertise complimentarily but only to those who have the will to do so genuinely.

Even if the government does have a plan, I believe the leadership should possess the right subject knowledge to understand gaps in implementing it. I always believe in public-private partnerships. There has to be a long-term sound planning with industry friendly policies which shouldn’t change in the short or mid-term.

What is your final say to those reading this?

Sri Lanka which is blessed with the sea around the island, its strategic positioning, abundant resources and personnel, should be aware of the importance it has both locally and internationally. Thus the potential and attractiveness of the seafarer profession should be realized. This is a gold mine for the country in terms of many economic and social benefits, and opportunity as such only knocks the door once.

Professor (Capt.) Nalaka Lakmal Jayakody is a prominent professional and an academic in Sri Lanka. Joining the maritime sector in 1984 as an officer cadet soon after school, Prof Nalaka quickly rose to the rank of a ship captain.  He holds professional qualifications such as the Certificate of Competency as Class III – Australian Maritime University (AMC), Tasmania, Australia and Certificate of Competency as Master Mariner – Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Australia With over 14 years of experience at sea, he then decided to pursue his profession academically as well.  Prof Nalaka is well qualified with a Master of Science (MSc) in MET, World Maritime University, Malmo- Sweden and Doctor of Science (DSc) in Maritime Affairs, Dalian Maritime University, China where today he is a visiting professor of the University. He is a Fellow of the Nautical Institute (FNI) - UK, Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (FCILT) - UK, Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (FIMarEST)- UK, Chartered Marine Technologist (CMarTech)- UK, and have been actively involved in the country’s maritime industry both professionally and academically, and is a frequent public speaker in many local and global forums.

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