Gurkhas to be trained for sea duty
By K.K. CHADHA
MARITIME history will be made in Hong Kong tomorrow when the first batch of Gurkha soldiers will be admitted to the Seamen's Training Centre (STC).
The STC plans to train about 150 soldiers, aged between 25 and 35, over the next 18 months under a pilot project.
Government approval for the Vocational Training Council to offer training facilities for the Gurkha was received some time ago.
It is understood the Hong Kong Shipowners Association also was instrumental in the scheme.
The training will comprise a series of 61/2-week courses that will lead to employment in general purpose roles by shipping companies worldwide.
The trainees will be expected to pass several examinations, including personal survival techniques, certificate of proficiency for survival craft, efficient deck hand, first aid and fire-fighting.
The training will be completed before the end of next year, when some of the soldiers are expected to start leaving Hong Kong.
Association director Michael Farlie said a plus for ship owners and ship managers during the pilot project was that while undergoing pre-sea training at the STC, the Gurkhas will be accommodated, transported and paid by the British Army.
Funding for the scheme is coming from a Ministry of Defence Fund set up to help retrain Gurkhas from their military roles into other occupations.
Their ultimate employment will be open to owners worldwide, unless an early interest is taken in them by members of the association.
The association has arranged a seminar tomorrow to explain details of the scheme and its benefits to members.
The seminar will be addressed by Captain J.F.M. Harneis, liaison officer, of the Brigade of Gurkhas in Hong Kong, and STC manager Captain Jack Haworth.
The members also will be told of encouraging results obtained by Shell Tankers UK which employed three Gurkha soldiers, without pre-sea training, for preliminary assessment for permanent sea service.
To date some Gurkha soldiers have been retrained for security work, with the Jardine group starting its own training programme.
Shipping sources said the STC move is the first positive move by the Hong Kong Government to encourage sea-going employment for the Gurkhas whose numbers in military service are being depleted in the run-up to 1997.
Mr Farlie said the British Army felt an obligation to find new livelihoods for the Gurkhas stationed in Hong Kong.
He said the scheme had to be regarded as an experiment at this stage because the Gurkhas, who hail from land-locked Nepal, had not been used as seamen, although some owners had used them for general work on ships.
But he was optimistic of its success because all recruits could read and write basic English.
''The Gurkhas will be successful in sea service partly because they have close ethnic similarities with Indians and Pakistanis already serving on ships,'' he said.