KARACHI, March 28: There is a need to contain the glut of seaman by discontinuing their training as hardly 15 per cent of the over 15,000-strong workforce finds employment, says their union.
The All-Pakistan Seamen's Workers (CBA) Union said that out of more than 15,000 seamen, hardly 1,800 seafarers were presently employed, adding 300 were working in the national fleet while 1,500 were employed by foreign flag ships.
It said that 4,500 seamen were employed out of a total workforce of 7,500 during the past decade, adding that of the total, around 300 of them were working for the national fleet while nearly 4,200 were employed on foreign ships.
In the past, a seamen's list was maintained and almost everybody was given employment on rotation basis, and normally a seamen worked for a year and returned home, adding that the average waiting period in this regard was around a year. But presently the waiting period had now extended to between three and four years.
Sources said that the figures issued by an international organization - Baltic and International Maritime Council (Bimco) - paint a gloomy picture. Figures released by Bimco stated that during 2000, there were 823,000 seamen while there was a demand for 599,000 leaving 224,000 seamen in the surplus.
Owing to modernization, automation etc of the fleet, the projected surplus was expected to expand to over 255,000 by 2010.
The union says that earlier the government ensured that only a certain number of CDC's - between 7,000 and 8,000 - were issued so that everybody got a job after a normal rest period of around a year. But in the late 1990s the government made new rules in this regard. Currently, the number of CDCs is around 15,000.
The CDC, Continuous Discharge Certificate, is a document issued by the government to a seafarer and earlier a sailor could leave the country and fly to an other country to join the ship on the CDC, without requiring to have a passport or a visa.
The union said that in the late 1990s the government changed the law and employers and their agents were given a free hand to recruit anybody regardless of his number on the waiting list.
The union said that the law, which might have been formulated to give the employer a choice to select an efficient worker, encouraged corruption as the recruiting agents did not always followed the waiting list or the merit.
Earlier, there was just one government-owned institute - Pakistan Marine Academy's Seamen Training Centre - which charged around Rs15,000 for training seamen and nearly 100 fresh seamen passed out every year.
But after the new law many private centres have mushroomed, charging between Rs70,000 and Rs80,000 for six- month training and creating a glut in the already over-saturated job market.
Sometimes untrained and unfit people are sent by local recruiting agents to ships berthed in other countries. These people are usually sent back after they do not perform duties to the satisfaction of their employers, creating a bad impression about Pakistani seamen.
The situation took an unfortunate turn after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, resulting in a drastic contraction of the job market for Pakistani seafarers. The union said that under new laws, if a ship had a Pakistani crew member it had to keep two security guards when berthed at any port in the United States, which increased the costs besides creating unnecessary hassles.
Now, many countries, particularly in the Europe and North America, have introduced new laws under which the Pakistani seafarers besides carrying CDCs, had to carry passports along with the visa of that country, before they could leave Pakistan to join their ship if it was berthed in any European country.
The union says that previously, only genuine seafarers used to get CDCs, but in the late 1990s when the youth were bent on going to the US or the Europe at any cost, acquisition of a CDC was considered a far safer way to go abroad.
Sources said that travelling to Europe and the US on forged documents costed around Rs500,000 and Rs800,000, adding that there was a constant threat of being deported.
On the other hand, getting a CDC, arranging a job-offer from fake companies, and then travelling to Europe / USA not only cost much lesser but was comparatively safer also.
The union said that many unscrupulous people had gone to join ships in Europe and had then either slipped right away after landing at the airport, or deserted as and when they got a chance while sailing with their vessels for a few months.
The union said that in many countries ships were fined heavily because of crew members' desertion and to avoid it, many shipping companies have stopped employing Pakistanis, while many others send their entire Pakistani crew back as a punitive action against the desertion of any of their Pakistani seaman, further restricting their overseas employment opportunities.
All-Pakistan Seamen's Workers Union general secretary Syed Abid Ali told this correspondent that between 40 and 50 seamen had deserted in the past six months. Countries favoured by deserters included Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea.
He said that if seamen's training was stopped and the employment position became better, incidents of desertion would decline. He said keeping these conditions in mind, the government had formulated a new law a couple of years ago, but its by-laws had not yet been framed.
He demanded that terms and conditions and by-laws relating to the new law be formulated and implemented to improve the seamen's situation.