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Ahoy! For a career on the seas

A sea of riches awaits those who have the enterprise. — AFP

ENCOURAGED by the success of a friend's brother, Ravindran has decided to pursue a career in the merchant navy. Countless youngsters like Ravindran get into the maritime act because they want to have the same monetary success that somebody else enjoys. Not uncommonly, many of them find themselves out of their depth when it is time to put the shoulder to the wheel. This profession no doubt offers immense monetary rewards, but it also has a way of extracting its pound of flesh.

You would have to spend months on end away from home and hearth. Then you should have a physical condition that can weather the strains of life at sea, as also the emotional maturity to make yourself comfortable with people of different creeds (more often than not, a crew is incongruously varied in its composition). But, these issues will demand your attention only after you have made the grade and found a ship that is willing to take you on board. Before you reach that stage, there are other little mountains to climb.

Studies constitute the first base. If you want to study at two reputed government-run institutions in the country, you should have completed your higher secondary education and distinguished yourself in three subjects. If you know the properties of energy and matter like the back of your palm, relish the company of chemistry equations and enjoy reciting the Fibonacci series backwards and forwards, you have met the first requirement. But if you feel at sea with physics, chemistry and mathematics, you are probably destined to be a landlubber all the days of your life.

"Getting a ticket to the three-year BSC nautical science course (for navigation jobs) conducted on board TS Chanakya (a `training ship' in Mumbai) will ensure that you learn the ropes in the most practical and effective manner. Another government-run institution, Marine Engineering Research Institute, which functions in Kolkata, offers a four-year course for aspiring marine engineers. To make it to these courses you must come out with flying colours in the IIT-JEE exams," says R. Anbu, marine engineer, The Shipping Corporation of India.

Though getting degrees in maritime studies can put you ahead of the competition and place you at the top of the tree, taking up short-term pre-sea training courses offered by an ever-increasing number of private institutions and then working your way up is another route to being a successful seafarer. "You can clamber up the maritime hierarchy by obtaining certificates of competency (CoC). Rewards of passing exams that shadow the standards set by the International Maritime Organisation, these certificates are recognised the world over," says Mr. Anbu.

Occupying the top echelons of the maritime hierarchy are the deck and engineering officers. In the deck officers' category, the captain is at the top of the pile, followed by the chief mate, the second mate, the third mate and the trainee navigating cadets. You can start off as a cadet and "write" your way to being a captain. Explaining its functions in a nutshell, marine consultant S. Govindarajan says: "This department, responsible for navigation, steers the ship and keeps all the units of the crew in line by enforcing discipline. The deck department is also responsible for the proper storage of cargo."

The hierarchical contour of the engineering department is as follows: Chief engineering officer, second engineering officer, third engineering officer, fourth engineering officer, fifth engineering officer, junior engineers and trainee engineers. "The technical arm of the ship management, it has the key to the engine room. It is, in fact, responsible for all the technical aspects of the ship."

Another vital group comprises the stewards. The chief cook and the chief steward are vested with the authority to oversee operations in this section. Apart from serving food, this section undertakes the maintenance of the living rooms.

Workers in the "ratings" category form the core of the system. Essentially manual workers, they are divided into three mutually exclusive groups. Those under deck ratings have to keep the environs on the ship spic and span, and perform other tasks that call for hard physical labour.

Workers under the engine ratings bring the machinery up to snuff by carrying out maintenance work on them. Serving food, doing dishes and ensuring a hygienic environment broadly define the work in the "catering ratings" section.

Now, take your pick!

Prince Frederick

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