Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
Currently serving in The Neotia University as the Director of School of Maritime Studies, Mr. Amitava Banerjee holds an Extra First Class (India) Certificate of Competency (i.e. the highest Certificate of Competency by international standards) and a Post-Graduation in Maritime Safety Administration (Marine Engineering) from the World Maritime University, Malmo, Sweden.
After serving the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India, and Mumbai as Chief Surveyor-cum-Additional Director-General and Ex-Officio Chief Examiner of Engineers for 6 years, he retired voluntarily in November 2014. During his tenure with the Government of India, he represented India for more than 10 years as member and head of various delegations to the IMO, Marine Environment Protection Committee in particular. Presently he is attached as the Director of the School of Maritime Studies of The Neotia University. He is also a Special Advisor to the American Digital University, USA, for co-coordinating the E-learning programmer related to Certificate of Competency examinations of the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India.
Specialities of a career in the merchant navy as an officer
There are many specialities in this career. Firstly, you get paid very highly and therefore, you would normally be able to make a relatively big saving, rather early in life. Besides, you would be able to visit many foreign countries. Once you become a senior officer, say after 7/8 years, you can carry your family on board the ship in which you are serving. The boarding and lodging arrangements on board can match any 4-star hotel. It is quite different to the Indian Navy, which is used for the purpose of defending the country’s waters during a war. Ships in the merchant navy are used to carry various kinds of cargoes from one place in the world to another. 90% of the cargo required to be transported worldwide, is carried on board ships of the merchant navy.
The basic eligibility criteria to join The Neotia University for undertaking the courses related to joining the merchant navy as an officer
You need to have an aggregate percentage of 60 at the (10+2) level, with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as compulsory subjects. Besides, you must have 50% in English, either in the final examinations of Class X or Class XII. A medical test as prescribed by the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India is also a compulsory requirement. These requirements are applicable to each and every institution which conducts courses related to joining the merchant navy as an officer, since their eligibility criteria are laid down by the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India.
Courses related to joining the merchant navy as an officer, that are offered by The Neotia University (TNU)
The two basic courses offered by The Neotia University are (i) B.Tech in Marine Engineering. This is a 4-year course, and, (ii) B.Sc in Nautical Science. This is a 3-year course. Both the courses require a compulsory stay in the hostel, with a number of hours short-leave to go out of the campus, on weekends. Otherwise also, going out from the hostel is permitted with special permission. On completing the B.Tech in marine engineering, one can get placed on board a ship on the arising of a vacancy, as a junior engineer/engineering cadet of a ship. After sailing and working on board for a number of months as a junior engineer, you can appear for examinations conducted by the Directorate General of Shipping, after you have sailed for the prescribed months. Once you clear the examinations, you can join back ships, usually at a higher level. There are examinations basically conducted at three levels, and you can get promoted accordingly, based on the availability of shipboard vacancies. The highest of these sea-going examinations pertain to that of a Chief Engineer.
The system is similar to the Nautical side. Here, you usually join the ship as a cadet and then within a short period, you can become a nautical officer. However, here, the highest examination pertains to that of a Captain. Once you clear the examinations at the three levels, you can become the Captain of a ship, depending on the vacancy available. The Captain commands the ship, while the Chief Engineer commands, the Engine Room and all the other machinery required on board to operate the ship.
Mr. Amitava on when can a student after completing his B.Tech Marine Engineering or B.Sc. Nautical Science degree can join service on board a ship
On completion of the 4-year degree course in B.Tech Marine Engineering or 3-year degree course in B.Sc. Nautical Science, one can start his career in the merchant navy on board ships as a junior engineer or cadet, as applicable, subject to shipboard vacancies being available.
At present, the starting salary for a junior engineer is around 700 US Dollars and that of a cadet is about 500 US Dollars, which is equivalent to about Rs. 47, 000/- and Rs 33,500/-, per month, respectively. In addition to this salary, free boarding and lodging are provided on board the ship. As stated above, the boarding and lodging arrangements on the ship, are among the best in the industry.
Mr. Amitava on when can a student after completing his B.Tech. Marine Engineering or B.Sc. Nautical Science degree, become a Chief Engineer or Captain of a Ship, respectively
A person with average intelligence, willingness to, study hard and sail largely uninterrupted by availing of minimum leave, can pass the various Certificates of Competency examinations as conducted by the Directorate General of Shipping and rise to the level of Chief Engineer or Captain, as applicable, within a short span of say 7 to 9 years. The salary of a Chief Engineer or Captain will be not less than 5000 US dollars, which is equivalent to Rs. 3.35 lakhs per month.
Mr. Amitava on Income tax benefit enjoyed by shipboard officers
If a mariner stays outside India for more than 182 days in an accounting year (1st April of one year to 31st March of the next year), he will be treated as a Non-Resident Indian (NRI). In such an event the entire salary is exempted from Income tax. This means, in such cases, you do not have to pay any tax on your income.
The focus of the SOMS of The Neotia University and how it is different from other Institutes/ Universities
The focus of TNU is to impart training and education that prepares cadets to be leaders for the emerging global maritime society. TNU makes all possible efforts so that the School of Maritime Studies (SOMS) is able to equip the students with contemporary knowledge and skills of the highest practicable standard, particularly, inter alia, by having a “shipboard performance feedback” (from employers and alumni), the mechanism in place. Even if one employer says that a cadet who graduated from the TNU has been found to be of good use to a ship’s operations, we feel that we are doing our job in the right direction. SOMS is subject to rigorous and up-to-date quality-audits by the various statutory authorities. Till date, the SOMS of TNU has been awarded fairly high grades in all these audits. The findings of these audits, also help us to introspect and take corrective actions on a sustained basis. As required of any quality system, we invariably strive for continuous improvement.
Facilities available at TNU for practical training, which we all know is very important for shipboard operations
TNU is one of the few colleges in Eastern India that can rightfully claim the presence of an in-house, high-tech Ship-in-Campus and with advanced bridge simulation facilities. These facilities, built in compliance with international standards, house original shipboard equipment in order to give the trainee marine engineering and nautical science cadets a hands-on feel of what a career in the merchant navy entails.
The training and infrastructural facilities as provided by TNU have received the Grade A2 (i.e., very good) under the Comprehensive Inspection Programme of the Government of India. The audit in this regard was carried out by the renowned Classification Society, DNV-G L. The SOMS is also certified by the DNV-GL for having complied with the latest ISO standard, i.e., the ISO 9001: 2015. Obviously, the SOMS of TNU is approved by the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India.
A number of products of TNU (known erstwhile as ITME and thereafter as NITMAS, i.e. Institute of Technology and Marine Engineering, and, Neotia Institute of Technology Management and Science) have been sailing with several eminent shipping companies as Chief Engineer and in other ranks.
Mr. Amitava on how the students can benefit from TNU’s formal industry tie-ups
The Neotia University (TNU) is in close touch with the best industry practices. The management has signed MoUs with Blue Bird Shipping Management Private Limited (BBSMPL) and Destan Ship Management Pvt. Ltd. (DSMPL), to render help/guidance in the placement of cadets of marine engineering (MRE) and nautical science (BNS) with shipping various companies. The cadets, on completion of their training at TNU, and if they so desire, may directly approach these organizations and seek assistance/career-counselling, for their shipboard placements.
Mr. Amitava on the alumni association and placement facility of TNU and the important attributes expected of a cadet for shipboard employment
The Neotia University has a sizeable number of alumni working successfully in their chosen walks of life, across the world. Our ex-cadets have been placed on board ships owned and managed by various shipping companies like, Elegant Marine Services, Wallem Ship Management, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, MSC Ship Management, United Ocean Ship Management, Gulf Energy Maritime Services (GEM), Wilhelmsen Ship Management, MMS Maritime (MMSI), Apeejay Shipping, Univan Ship Management, Searland Management Service, Herald Maritime Service, etc. Alumni meets are also arranged from time to time.
The management is in regular touch with shipping companies and makes all efforts to explore avenues for shipboard placements. As we all know, shipping is a cyclical industry and there are unpredictable ups and downs, and, along with this, the employment opportunities vary. The last BIMCO-ISF (the only international body which publishes maritime manpower-requirement reports, around every 5 years, and which is available on the internet) report, however, indicates a demand for seafaring officers in the coming years. However, it is only the well-trained, knowledgeable and properly-disciplined cadets with the correct attitude, who are expected to be entertained by the various shipping companies for their interviews and thereafter for shipboard employment in the merchant navy. Clear (i.e. necessarily not accented) and confident communication skills in English, also get preference with employers.
Significant challenges faced by Mr. Amitava as a part of The Neotia University
Maritime Studies was offered by The Neotia Institute of Technology, Management and Science (NITMAS) since 2002. The Neotia University has been formed only 3 years ago. It has been quite a challenge to bring up the standard of imparting education and skills, to match up to that which is required of an institution of higher learning. It is easy to merely fulfil the needs of the prescribed syllabus, but it is not quite easy to do so with a cutting edge, which has always been the mission of TNU. In achieving this mission, TNU has been able to successfully meet the challenge of recruiting the best marine faculty, who have a proven track record of eminence in maritime circles.
Mr. Amitava on if a merchant navy officer needs to sail throughout his life
No. After, say, 10-12 years of sailing, when he has made a sizeable amount of savings, the merchant navy officer, marine engineers, in particular, can very well settle down at the shore, with lucrative salaries. The hands-on skills they acquire in repairing/servicing various kinds of machinery/utilities while sailing is in great demand ashore. A lot of opportunities exist for marine engineers in ports, shipyards, shipbuilding and repair yards, various maritime training Institutes, shipping companies, Administrations (i.e. Directorate General of Shipping), Classification Societies, 5-star hotels, big hospitals etc. etc. Nautical officers have also preferred ashore in insurance companies, cargo inspecting companies and the like.
Suggestions for the current youth
Aspiring marine engineering and nautical science cadets must keep their ears and eyes wide open, develop the best of skills in demand and the applicable contemporary knowledge, and, practice deep self-discipline along with hard work. Their body language should demonstrate that they are confidently capable of being a hard and trusted-worker who is ever-keen to learn all that is necessary to become a “quality-delivery” oriented professional, keeping “day-after-tomorrow” in mind. Cheerful submission to superiors and the resilience to accept constructive criticism, are highly sought-after attributes from the prospective seafaring professionals.