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Sailor shortage in growing industry

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-04-20 06:42
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SHENZHEN: China is short of 13,000 high-level maritime workers as the shipping industry continues to develop.

To fill the gap as soon as possible, China's Maritime Safety Administration is reforming the barriers to sailor recruitment.

China now has at least 130,000 senior sailors out of the total 500,000 seafarers, said Liu Gongchen, executive director general of the administration yesterday, at the 2006 Shenzhen International Maritime Forum. The theme of the two-day event ending today is qualified seafarers.

To foster qualified sailors, the administration has set up a comprehensive education, training, examination and certification system. Each year, more than 10,000 people graduate from the country's 76 maritime colleges and institutions to become seafarers.

However, the demand is increasing faster than the supply.

"Every two weeks, there is a new ship completed and launched," said Li Zhonghua, an official in charge of seafarers.

Official statistics show that China's port handling capacity was 2.8 billion tons in 2002, but jumped to 4.91 billion tons last year.

This year, the port handling capacity is expected to increase by 15 to 20 per cent, said Li.

Realizing the demand, the administration invited nearly 300 experts and scholars from home and abroad to the forum to find a solution to the problem.

At present, the administration has decided to take a number of measures this year.

First, college students who major in engineering sciences and show an interest in the maritime industry are welcomed to become seafarers, said Li.

In the past, only those who graduated from maritime colleges and institutions are allowed to take seafaring examinations and become sailors.

Engineering majors can now work as seafarers as long as they receive training and pass sailor examinations.

The second move is to encourage youth in rural areas, especially in western China, to join the group. In the past, most Chinese sailors came from the eastern part of the country.

"A sailor's income can raise a whole family. For the poverty-stricken western areas, it is a good opportunity to change their living conditions," said Li.

To protect sailors' rights, a regulation is expected to come out this year, which will outline the requirements for a quality seafarer and list their rights.

The newly trained sailors will be used to meet domestic demand first, and then sent as a labour export, according to Liu Gongchen.

Because of the domestic shortage, there are less than 40,000 seafarers working on foreign flag vessels. Compared with the Philippines, which has 250,000 sailors working on foreign flag vessels, China has a huge potential for enlarging their labour export in this field.

However, Egthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, pointed out that Chinese seafarers who seek employment opportunities abroad should bear in mind the importance of English language training.

"An inability to communicate properly can undermine even the best qualified of shipboard management teams," he said, upon his first attendance at the forum.

The forum has been held four times since 2001. The administration decided to let Shanghai and Shenzhen hold the forum consecutively in the future.

China has been a Category A member of the International Maritime Organization for nine years.

(China Daily 04/20/2006 page3)