All aboard for rewarding and lucrative career
Shipping companies offer young officers a challenging future
To many Hongkongers a career at sea means loneliness and long-time separation from friends and family, and it therefore rarely makes it on to the list of desirable jobs for those seeking employment.
With only a handful of young people interested in pursuing a maritime career each year, the industry is threatened by an ageing seafaring workforce and a lack of new blood.
With an inadequate supply of workers in the industry, shipping lines and shipping companies are facing challenges in the recruitment of maritime professionals to fuel expansion of their business and the addition of new routes.
Tony Yeung Pui-keung, manager of Maritime Services Training Institute (MSTI), said: 'The average age of most seafarers [in this field] is about 55, and there is a large demand for young deck or engineer cadet officers in the maritime related shore-based industry.'
There are three institutes in Hong Kong which provide maritime-related courses at different levels. The MSTI provides short courses for pre-sea and in-service seafarers; Polytechnic University offers degrees in shipping and logistics; and the Tsing Yi Campus of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education organises pre-sea training and engineering courses.
All of these courses are in compliance with the standards and requirements of the Seafarers' Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) code established by the International Maritime Organisation, to ensure that all mariners have been adequately trained and have appropriate licences to work at sea.
'The MSTI short courses are mandatory before the graduates can go to sea,' said Mr Yeung. 'They need to receive the Hong Kong Seamen's Service Record Book document and they can only receive this after they have completed the relevant modules of study at the MSTI.'
In addition to the pre-employment education, there are many short and mandatory training courses on safety, communication, medical care, ship security, cargo operation, crowd control and crisis management, and operation of specific shipboard equipment. The MSTI offers a comprehensive range of hands-on training courses.
According to Mr Yeung, about 10 per cent of the institute's graduates have sought employment in shore movement industries and 90 per cent are engaged in employment related to passenger and cargo transport services with jobs ranging from cargo planner, cargo surveyor at ports to night vision officer for ferry operators.
Interestingly, the number of women enrolling in the MSTI's courses has been rising, with the highest record being one-third of the student body.
Macau's economic boom has created new opportunities for the institute's graduates too.
'A new ferry operator has recently started to run the route between Hong Kong and Macau, and another ferry company will start its operations in 2008,' Mr Yeung said.
David Watkins, fleet safety, security and environmental manager of the China Navigation Company, the deep-sea shipping arm of the Swire Group, said there was a strong demand for qualified seafarers in Hong Kong.
'After many years of decline in seafaring, there seems to be a growing interest in this area. Going to sea can be an extremely rewarding and challenging career, especially on international ocean liners,' he said.
'Working aboard an international ocean liner is a great way to gain leadership and teamwork skills, work with different nationalities, develop management skills and work with different styles of operation and receive continuous onboard training. Ninety two per cent of the world's trade volume is carried by sea, and the port of Hong Kong, which ranks second in handling cargo volumes, plays a significant part in the global trading network.'
Mr Watkins said people who wanted to join the maritime industry needed to have a good academic background and sound knowledge of mathematics and physics, and a good command of maritime English. On board, the ability to use common sense was crucial, especially when working in a team.
He said the number of graduate cadets from the MSTI who had followed a seagoing career had trebled over the past few years because of an attractive remuneration package.
'The financial reward is a major reason why cadets are keen to join the maritime industry. The chance to learn new management skills in an international environment and their desire to see the world are also some of the reasons many students are now considering this career path,' Mr Watkins said.
'Once a cadet joins a shipping liner, regular training is provided to help them achieve the necessary level of competence before they take their first professional examination.'
Safety training is particularly important in the maritime industry, and seafarers have to undergo different types of training. 'The Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) training mandated by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea is compulsory to ensure the safety of merchant ships on the sea,' Mr Watkins said. 'In addition to the Solas training, our officers need to undertake regular training throughout their employment to ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest safety regulations and methods.'
Navigational watchkeeping officer
Bosun An officer who supervises the work of deck cadets
Container ship A ship designed to handle containerised cargo
Crew The personnel engaged on board a ship, excluding the master and officers and the passengers on passenger ships
Pilotage The act carried out by a pilot to assist the master of a ship in navigation when entering or leaving a port
Watch The day at sea is divided into six four-hour periods. Three groups of watchstanders are on duty for four hours and then off for eight, then back on duty