An Introduction:

A merchant navy or merchant marine is the fleet of merchant vessels that are registered in a country. Seafarers on merchant vessels of various ranks and sometimes members of maritime trade unions, are required by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers to carry Merchant Mariner's Documents.

King George V bestowed the title of the "Merchant Navy" on the British merchant shipping fleets following their service in the First World War; since then a number of other nations have adopted the title. The following is a partial list of the merchant navies or merchant marines of various countries. In many countries the fleet's proper name is simply the capitalized version of the common noun.

Indian Merchant Navy

The birth of the modern Indian merchant navy occurred before independence from the United Kingdom, when in 1919 SS Loyalty sailed from India to Britain.Since independence the Indian maritime industry has grown, but not up to expectations. Today, India ranks 22nd in the world in terms of total DWT ranking.

India currently supplies around 12.8% of Officers and around 14.5% of ratings to the world seafaring community. This is one of the highest of any country

A General Introduction:

Merchant ships came into existence as soon as men were able to build a craft that could float and carry people and cargo. The first well-organised merchant ships were from Venice and Genoa in Southern Europe and Hamburg and Bremen in North Europe. Soon people realized the profits merchant ships could make in trading with far off countries.

The first steamship that crossed the Atlantic was in the early part of the 19th century. Competition increased and better vessels came into being. Today there are many types of ships in the merchant navy. Merchant Navy fleet includes cargo ships, container ships, barge carrying ships, tankers, bulk carriers, refrigerator ships, passenger ships as well as roll off/roll on ships. Here is a brief description.

Cargo ships - The simplest cargo ship has large open storage spaces called Holds. On the ship's deck are machinery for loading and unloading, winches and booms.

Container ships are designed to carry containerized cargo. Special standardized containers packaged with cargo are loaded directly onto the vessel.

Barges - Barges are long, large, usually flat boats which are usually wed or maneuvered by other towing vessels.

Roll on and Roll off ships - These are designed to carry vehicles which can be loaded at ports by being driven on and can be unloaded by being driven off.

Tankers - Tankers carry petroleum products, or alternatively any liquid eg., molasses. It has pumping equipment for loading and unloading.

Bulk carriers - Cargo such as grain, oil, ore has lot of weight. Bulk carriers are so designed that they can enter shallow waters and narrow channels. They can be loaded and unloaded by special equipment in very short time.

Refrigerator ships - Huge cold storage plants are built into them. They are used to carry perishable food stuff and items on specific service routes.

Passenger ships - These vary in capacity from small ferry vessels to large trans Atlantic vessels. The large liners are almost like 5 star hotels and include swimming pools, games courts etc. The ferry boat on the other hand has neat seating arrangements and gives shelter from sun and rain. All passenger ships carry some cargo and vice verse. Some large cargo carriers have passengers on board too.

Other professionals on the ship

Marine Radio officers, electrical officers (engineers), Pursers and Medical officers are hired directly and their maximum qualifications and suitability are determined by the shipping companies employing them. Pursers are usually B.Com/BA and they need no professional training. They keep accounts on board. The radio officers should have a certificate of proficiency as wireless operator as issued by the Ministry of Communication. A majority of radio and electrical officers are ex Indian Navy Petty officers though graduates are also eligible if they clear the exams conducted by the ministry. All these professionals report to the Master of the ship.

Work Environment

The working condition on a ship varies with the kind of ship. Many liners are very old and not really in excellent shape while others may be new with the latest facilities. The working conditions vary between passenger ships, all kinds of cargo ships, tankers and also vary with the region the ship sails and the water ways it sails on.

Engineering officers share the same facilities as deck officers and the general environment in which they have to work is the same. However, the main workplace for engineers is the engine room, which can be hot, noisy and to some extent dirty. Engineers are also involved in the maintenance of deck machinery, whatever the weather.

The environment in which they work has improved considerably in recent years with the increase in automation. However, their job is demanding and they often have to work in far from ideal locations - for instance, maintaining and repairing equipment in confined spaces or in refrigerated areas. Working on board a ship is not as glamorous as it may seem.

Ratings are expected to work in open weather conditions which may be hot, cold or wet. Keeping watch in open spaces, maintaining ships equipment in difficult weather and rough sea conditions can really be a tough job.

Merchant Navy personnel while travelling across the globe may not necessarily see all the ports they visit. They have to carry out a number of responsibilities while the ship is docked. They remain on board for long periods and hence are away from home. They can earn long vacations between contracts for jobs. Most merchant navy personnel are hired on contracts for one journey at a time so the option to discontinue in favour of stepping into another kind of job always exists.

While travelling throughout the world, may be exciting, long sea voyages may get boring. Seafarers are away from their homes and families for long periods of time. Space on the ships is cramped. Living area is shared with others. Mess room may also be a place for recreation. Men of the merchant navy are exposed to all kinds of weather, no matter what is their rating.

Personal Characteristics:

The jobs call for genuine interest that can help the entrant adjust with ease and confidence. The ability to withstand long stretches of hard work in an emergency situation on board a vessel and to bear the physical strain, needs a person with tough mental and physical self to sustain through such stress. A person with a strong mental make-up and tough physical constitution along with a sporting, adaptive and adjustable attitude can find life at sea one of adventure and fun. Life at sea is not a comfortable break from the routine of academics. A merchant navy entrant must involve in a rigorous course of the on-the-job learning. They have to pass stipulated examinations to get promotions.

Engineering officers must be practical and resourceful. An aptitude for maths and physics is essential. During their training they must acquire a thorough knowledge of diesel engines, steam turbines, boilers, electrical power generation and circuits, electronics and system engineering. Manual dexterity is necessary; much of the work involves the servicing and repair of equipment. They must enjoy solving problems, and be flexible enough to adapt to advancement in technology and working practices. At times they have to share the work of the deck department. Hence they need to be aware of the work and should have good administrative skills.

Shipping firms are primarily looking for young people interested in a seafaring career. Personal attributes such as responsibility, adventure, willingness to be away from home for long periods and the ability to get on with others is essential. With the reduced size of crews, everyone's contribution matters. Hence a rating should be able to handle technical work independently. Flexibility, dexterity and the attitude to pitch in when needed is appreciated.

Nature of Work

Merchant Marine vessels can be categorized into the Deck, Engine and the Steward departments each over seen by officers. The main officers on the ship are Executives or Navigators and Engineers. Engineers take care of the running of the ship and Executive Officers look after all activities on the deck.

Though there are traditional dividing lines between the deck and engineering branches these roles are becoming less defined and the role of the ships's officer is changing. This is a consequence of the increasing sophistication of navigational and mechanical equipment, together with the use of computers and electronic control and automation in modern ships. This process of change is expected to continue at an ever increasing rate particularly on foreign ships.

Navigating officers and Marine engineers have to go through structured training and a series of promotion examination before taking command of the ship as a Captain/Chief Marine Engineers.

In terms of functional hierarchy the officers have 'ratings' working under their supervision in each of the two major departments, i.e., deck and engine room. The option to join a foreign going vessel or a coastal ship depends on qualification, age, and aptitude. Here is a description of what the officers and ratings do on a ship.