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Importance of professional development in a maritime career

The Nautical Institute, 40th Anniversary Event

September 21, 2011

The Nautical Institute
40th Anniversary Event
HMS President, London, 21 September 2011
Importance of professional development in a maritime career
By E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is with great pleasure that I join you this evening as you have gathered together to celebrate forty years since the founding of the Nautical Institute. Let me congratulate you on reaching such a significant milestone. It speaks of an Institute that has firmly established its credentials and demonstrated that its values and relevance to the shipping community are both strong and continuous.
 
Although originally founded to fill a gap in the process of maritime education and training in the UK, this worthy Institute has since grown to the extent that it now has a presence all over the world. More than 40 branches worldwide and more than 7,000 members in over 110 countries tell the story of a truly international organization.  As such, there was no hesitation among IMO Members in granting consultative status to the Nautical Institute when asked to do so in 2009.
 
Safety and security at sea and the protection of the environment are the goals that we strive for. But they can only be achieved if the industry is staffed by people of the highest calibre. Technical measures and practical innovations are all very well, but without quality people to implement and operate them, they are unlikely to be worth a great deal.
 
The Nautical Institute focuses firmly on people and, in particular, on professional people at all stages of their career. The influence of education and training is usually strongest among those in the early stages of their careers, still fresh from school, college or university. But the Nautical Institute recognizes the importance of ensuring that those who have moved on in years still have the opportunity to progress and learn. “Continuous professional development” is the catchphrase that embodies all that you stand for. It is a concept that, I believe, is vital in any industry if standards are to be maintained and improved – and shipping is no exception.
 
The need to sustain and develop a high-quality manpower resource for the industry’s future remains undiminished and is as strong today as it was 40 years ago when the Nautical Institute was formed. Nevertheless, it is instructive to ponder, for a moment, on some of the fundamental changes that have taken place in shipping over that period – changes which, if anything, make the need for systematic enhancement and the broadening of knowledge within the industry’s professional workforce more important than ever.
 
Culturally and socially, shipping today is a world apart from the industry of the 1970s into which the Nautical Institute was born. Back then, the multi-national crew, so prevalent today, was still the exception rather than the rule.
 
The 1970s saw the beginning of the period when containers came to dominate general cargo shipping, and large tankers were forced to use offshore terminals. Life for seafarers was undergoing major changes, the most significant being that time spent in port was decreasing. In the previous generation, a general cargo ship might call at ten or more European ports before setting off for, say, the Far East.  Each port call might last two or three days, perhaps even a week (or more in the case of bulk carriers), depending on the cargo to be loaded and the facilities available. Port calls were also the focus for receiving and sending mail, for contact with home and family, as well as with the company and its management ashore.
 
It was a challenging, exciting and slightly exotic life, in which individuality and an independent spirit were important elements.  It was relatively well rewarded too; and it was, all in all, a more sociable existence.  With as many as 30 to 35 people on board a ship and fairly normal, regular, working hours, at least while in port, there was plenty of opportunity for seafarers to enjoy a diverse and interesting life – albeit at a cost to their pockets!...
 
The seafarers of the 1970s, those early members of the Nautical Institute, witnessed the beginnings of a different way of life. Work, and life, started to become more pressurized for them, in almost every way.  It was the start of a one-way road that has led to today’s situation, when, with crew numbers pared down to perhaps twelve or fifteen persons, the sheer demands of a seafarer’s job are immense. And, with so few people on board, a ship can be a lonely place during the off-duty hours. Port stays are now periods of intense activity and, for commercial reasons, the pressure is always on to turn around as quickly as possible. And today, seafarers generally work for manning agencies rather than shipping companies, so there is very little time to settle into the comfort of a routine and to establish the sort of working relationships that most people are entitled to develop and enjoy.
 
And yet, as you, in the Nautical Institute, are so adept at pointing out, many of the advantages that a career at sea has always offered remain the same – even if, with changing global economic patterns, their appeal has gradually shifted steadily towards developing countries. Good wages, early advancement to posts of responsibility, opportunities to travel, good long-term prospects, long holidays and the sense of doing something very different from just working in an office have a universal and timeless appeal to many young people setting out on a career. It is certainly true that developing countries have broken through the old officer/crew barrier now, and today it is, by no means, unusual to find competent and experienced officers from outside the traditional shipping nations in charge of the most modern vessels – something that is clearly reflected in the global reach of the Nautical Institute’s branch structure.
 
The emergence of branches in places like Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore demonstrate clearly that the impact of the seemingly relentless eastward march of the world’s economic centre of gravity is being felt throughout the shipping industry, too.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, it seems very likely that the unique hazards confronting seafarers – not only the natural ones but also pirate attacks, unwarranted detention, denial of shore leave and abandonment in foreign ports – act as a disincentive for many young people, who might otherwise consider choosing a career at sea; but they also make it ever-more incumbent upon all of us to do whatever is in our power to ensure that sufficient skilled personnel are available to operate today’s complex and sophisticated fleet of merchant vessels. That is why the work that you do, within the Nautical Institute, is so important.
 
By continually highlighting the fact that seafaring is not only a satisfying and worthwhile career choice in itself, but is also a passport to a huge variety of related jobs ashore for which experience at sea will make one eminently qualified, you help create the positive and enticing image that the industry needs. Indeed, the many dedicated former professional seafarers now serving throughout all parts of the industry as superintendents and managers in shipping companies, maritime pilots and VTS operators, teachers in maritime academies, or staff at search and rescue coordination centres and in a host of other roles are the best possible testimony to the riches that the maritime industry has to offer as a career.
 
The continuing challenge that we all face is how to engender a greater awareness that, after a seagoing career in a responsible and demanding job, there are so many opportunities ashore

in related industries that rely on the skills and knowledge of those with seafaring expertise. Management and communication skills, I.T. knowledge and familiarity with handling budgets are key requirements for many shore-side positions and, while many of these may currently be outside the formal technical standards required of mariners, they are, nevertheless, among the far broader set of attributes and competencies needed by the professional seafarer today.
 
It is, therefore, vital that such skills are developed and practised for the future well-being of the shipping industry as a whole because, while training and recruitment is one side of the coin, retaining seafarers in the maritime profession and ensuring, through continuous professional development, that they remain in the ranks aboard and onshore, is the other, equally important, side.
 
Shipping faces difficult times – as, indeed, we all do. Our newspapers and TV screens bring us daily a grim litany: a seemingly never-ending economic crisis, social and political unrest, riots and demonstrations, natural disasters, global warming and climate change, famine and humanitarian disasters. All of these have an impact on shipping, either directly or indirectly, and it is in difficult times like these that the industry, and those within it, looks to its representative bodies, such as the Nautical Institute, for leadership and direction.
 
That 1.5 million seafarers serve the daily needs of more than 6.5 billion citizens of the world is a remarkable fact that goes largely unnoticed or is taken for granted by most, but one that should be trumpeted loud and clear.
Seafarers render extraordinary service every day of their professional lives, frequently under dangerous circumstances, in delivering essential goods to the peoples of the world. Just as they deserve respect, recognition and gratitude for their exceptional contribution to global society, so too do they deserve to have an active professional body, such as the Institute we have gathered here to honour this evening, to provide the kind of career support that so many other professions take for granted.
 
So, congratulations to the Nautical Institute for 40 years of service, and here’s to the next 40 – and beyond.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Thank you.
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