Wages are high but you are away from home and family for several months at a stretch, spending long periods on the high seas
We had discussed the overall nature of work in the merchant navy and certain specific aspects of jobs in the deck department in these columns previously. Let us now look at some of the other areas of work in a merchant ship.
The engineers are in sole charge of the engine room, boilers, generators, pumps, hydraulic and electrical systems, auxiliaries, propulsion system, fuel handling, lubricating systems, water line, refrigerating and sanitary equipment, and the entire machinery in the ship.
Faultless functioning of equipment is vital. Since the ship is usually cut off from the land, efficient operation and maintenance of equipment with the available supporting machines, spares, services, and other facilities on board may call for resourcefulness and innovative skills, far more than routine technical competency.
The chief engineer will be assisted in his duties by the second, third, fourth, and fifth engineers and other junior personnel. There are substantial electronic controls, automation, and alarm systems in modern ships, which help to eliminate several physical operations and continuous manual monitoring. Nonetheless, the engineers have to be on alert round the clock.
There will be separate electrical officers and radio officers with their specific charges. They also help to maintain the technical efficiency of the vessel.
A merchant ship that regularly undertakes long journeys across the oceans is, in a way, a small world. It should have facilities for all kinds of services for the men on board. Food, medical assistance, exercise, and entertainment are some of them.
The steward's department is vested with the responsibility of making all these available. The chief steward is supported by a team of stewards, cooks, mess men, bakers, and so on. All parts of the ship including the deck have to be kept clean. Yet another need is the services of divers, who have to make underwater examination of the ship's propellers, and other submerged parts. Light-keepers, cleaners, waiters, and office assistants also form part of the steward's personnel.
The high wages of personnel in the merchant navy make it an attractive career option for many. But we should not forget the characteristic rigours in the profession. You will have to be away from home and family for several months at a stretch, spending very long periods on the high seas, confined to the constraints of a ship. You may be forced to miss several social occasions like weddings, meetings, or funerals which you would have otherwise attended. Gazing at the starry sky in a pleasant summer night without any hindrance from a deck and enjoying the spell-binding charm of endless expanse of water may thrill the young and enchant many. But the charm and excitement may fade away quickly.
Not everyone can work in the merchant navy. You should have essential physical and mental attributes to withstand the demands of the service. The employees as a rule do not work continuously for several years at a stretch, unlike a person working in a school, bank, or factory. They come back to the land frequently, spend a few months, and then resume their work on board. This cycle repeats. They may go for new contracts with different shipping companies. Some of them limit their career to 15 or 20 years, make substantial savings of money, retire from the merchant navy, and then settle into jobs on the land.
The profession offers wonderful opportunities for travelling around the world; but the fancy may vanish after a few trips to the same destination.
There may be times of storms or hurricane, with rough sea posing threats to safety. You will have to face such situations with equanimity. With modern technology, the risks have been greatly reduced, making voyages safe and secure.
Any job in the merchant navy demands sound health. You will have to undergo thorough medical check-up and confirm that you are free from muscular malformation, deformity of chest, fracture with a pin inside, stammering, unhealed perforation of tympanic membrane, enlarged glands, high blood pressure, history of tuberculosis, enlarged kidneys, hernia, hydrocele, piles, history of mental disease, squint, colour blindness, or any disease that would affect normal functioning as an official in the merchant navy. Excellent eye-sight is a must. Vision should be 6/6 (normal) in each eye without glasses.
Candidates intending to join merchant navy training programmes have to be fit as per STCW 95/MS Medical rules.
They should get a certificate of medical fitness from medical practitioners approved by DG Shipping. Further, candidates must clear the MMPE (Merchant Marine Personality Evaluation) test prior to admission. This is a psychological screening test conducted at approved centres, on behalf of DG Shipping, in order to confirm that the candidate can successfully face the challenging career at sea.
The test evaluates factors such as adaptability, emotional strength, frustration tolerance level, tendency towards anger and aggression, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
Salary and perks are attractive for all cadres. Food, accommodation, and medical treatment are totally free. Those who work in foreign-going ships get NRI status. They do not have to pay income tax.
Merchant navy is in general a man's preserve, though a few women have recently ventured into this area. Training institutions usually offer concessions in fees to women candidates. However, women aspirants should study the working environment well before they launch a career in the merchant navy.
Appropriate temperament to stand the pressures of the characteristic atmosphere is vital for enjoying the job, or for at least surviving in the profession.
Those who opt for the life of a marine engineer starts their service as a fifth engineer. Apart from a bachelor's degree in engineering, they should have obtained an appropriate certificate of competency from the Union Ministry of Surface Transport. On the strength of experience and further certificates of competency obtained by passing examinations, the candidates steadily rise as the fourth, third, second, and finally the first engineer. Those who qualify for navigation rise up to the level of captain.