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Sunday, 31 January 2016

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Sri Lankan seafarers - the opportune moment

With the country being strategically positioned and blessed with an abundance of resources and access to affordable first-class maritime training, Sri Lanka needs to strive to leverage and be a top maritime nation recognised for its quality seafarers. This will not only result in increasing employment opportunities but also enhance and improve the country's foreign remittances and living standards.

Maritime nation


Prof. (Capt.) Nalaka Jayakody

I personally think that we are under-using resources in the country. Despite having many offers from overseas I still stay back to give my maximum contribution to develop the maritime sector. I have authored articles which I believe are not controversial but thought-provoking expert views. I believe it's my responsibility to address and make all stakeholders aware of this. My focus primarily is on two areas - maritime and academic. With experiences gained in over 90 countries, in my opinion, Sri Lanka is blessed with resources unlike any other country but unfortunately we haven't really harvested and nurtured it.

Dominant countries

From the time of Independence to successfully ending the civil war, I haven't seen any focus on producing and promoting seafarers which is one of the lucrative professions in the world today. It's a multi-million dollar industry which demands the proper attention of authorities through which Sri Lanka can benefit socially and financially.The entire world depends on shipping as ninety percent of world trade is done by ships. The worldwide population of seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships (50,000) is estimated to be 1.2m, in the order of 470,000 officers and 730,000 ratings. The Western world used to be important and dominant among crew supplying nations.

With the development of the maritime sector, the costs to maintain ships and especially crew too considerably increased which made the dominant countries look for maritime labour at low cost.

As a result, the shipping industry's crews were recruited mostly from developing countries such as Philippines and India with many seafarers having the opportunity to serve on foreign flagged ships. Since recently, countries in Eastern Europe such as Ukraine, Croatia and Latvia are experiencing a growth in supplying seafarers.About 30 percent of seafarers are from the Philippines. Out of the 1.2m mariners in the world, the Philippines is the top supplier of seafarers globally. Sri Lanka can definitely be the next big supplier provided the authorities extend due attention and concern regarding this.

Income

Though Sri Lanka is a maritime nation, we have only repaired or patched-up ships so far and have not gone beyond that to leverage resources to improve the sector and economic standards rather the country has focused on preliminary options by sending the unskilled abroad, mainly to the Middle East which does not generate significant or considerable benefits to our country, socially or financially.

I believe in the saying "One seafarer sent to the sea equals a hundred unskilled persons to the Middle East, in terms of income."

Once a seafarer joins and move up the career ladder, he or she would be making seven digits in five or ten years even before the age of 30. This should be an eye-opener for the authorities. Sri Lanka has a high literacy rate and Sri Lankans' foreign language knowledge compared to other countries is also high. It's also neutral with many nationalities working and living together in harmony and peace unlike some countries where there are issues within the border.

To be continued next week

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