Monthly Archives: July 2009

An overview on Merchant mariners of Bangladesh.

marrinerLEST we forget, we are a maritime nation with a rich history of courageous officers and sailors sailing across the seas and enriching the merchant navy. Even today, the country can rightly boast of producing many excellent merchant navy officers, engineers and sailors who are not only serving in the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation but also competing with others in the management and operation of ships of many renowned shipping companies around the world. The country can rightly boast of having an excellent Marine Academy, which was set up in 1962 at Juldia, a beautiful hilly area on the eastern side of the Karnafully river near Chittagong port. The academy, with an initial capacity of 42 cadets, can now provide pre-sea training facilities to as many as 200 cadets at a time and is considered one of the best maritime institutions in the world. The academy has so far produced more than 4000 officers, many of whom have got the most coveted certificates of Master Mariner and Chief Engineer from the department of trade and industry (DTI), UK, and are now serving as senior engineers and officers in world famous shipping companies. Some of them are even holding key managerial positions in these companies. Some of them are playing important roles in the management of international seaports, shipyards and seamen training institutions across the world. Some of them are working in international classification societies and earning a good reputation. It is unfortunate that the governments in Bangladesh have never (except during the brief period of Bangabandhu’s regime) tried to explore the potential human resources of the marine sector in real earnest. They relied more on civil or military bureaucrats, or on political henchmen, than on the marine experts in managing the sector. That is why we see, more often than not, organisations like BITWC, BIWTA, BSC, Chittagong Port, Mongla Port being headed by politicians, civil bureaucrats, or by retired defense personnel. As the adage goes, “the job of a blacksmith cannot be done by a potter.” We cannot expect a person without proper background or experience to do well in running the affairs of such organisations, which are required to handle ports, shipping and inland waterways. These are specialised fields where educational background, training and experience in the appropriate field are essential requirements for holding key positions, and these qualifications can only be achieved through a long process of pre-sea and at-sea training on board ocean going merchant ships. We all know that putting the right person in the right place is the first and foremost precondition for good governance at any level. Because of too much politicisation or too much militarisation, these norms were flouted at will by our past governments. The result has been, as is supposed to be, dismal, to say the least. Mongla port, which was once considered as one of the finest natural ports in the region, is now dead in a real sense. BIWTC, the water transport company, which was once considered to be the lifeline of the entire water transport system of this region, can now hardly breathe without ventilators. Its beautiful paddle steamers, which used to reach the people to every nook and corner of the southern region of this country in great comfort and safety, are now things of the past. The Bangladesh Shipping Corporation (BSC), that began its journey after independence with only one ocean-going ship, flourished at God-speed and increased its fleet to 30 in less than a decade because of efficient handling by some brilliant and highly experienced officers of the Bangladesh merchant navy. The organisation began to rot only when these officers either retired or were replaced by people of other disciplines to suit different purposes. It was expected that the incumbent government would quickly get rid of the politicisation/militarisation syndrome of the past and utilise our human resource to the fullest potential. In the marine sector, there is no dearth of skilled hands or qualified persons to bring back its past glory. Unfortunately, our expectations got a jolt when we learnt that retired defense personnel had replaced the director general of shipping, reportedly a merchant navy officer of outstanding caliber. With due respect to the noble profession of our armed forces, and high regard for the rigorous training and disciplined life they are continuously subject to, appointment of a retired officer from the armed forces — or for that matter from any discipline other than a truly professional body — to the post of DG shipping is likely to prove counter-productive because of the nature of the job and the field this department has to tread upon. The Awami League-led government came to power with the promise of change and a vision for digital Bangladesh. It must start reversing the old, ill conceived and unproductive practice of the past and put the right person in the right job in order to achieve its goal.

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