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Maritime Industry Requires More Seamen to Stay Afloat
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As China's maritime business continues to quickly expand, it has been identified that around 13,000 new and trained seamen are required by the industry. To fill the shortfall as quickly as possible China's Maritime Safety Administration is remodeling the recruitment standards.  


China had 130,000 senior sailors out of a total of 500,000 seamen, said Liu Gongchen, executive director general of the administration. He made his comments yesterday at the 2006 Shenzhen International Maritime Forum. The theme of the two-day event, which closes today, was qualified seafarers.


To encourage people to join the industry and qualify as mariners, the administration has set up a comprehensive education, training, examination and certification system. Each year more than 10,000 seamen graduate from the country's 76 maritime colleges and institutions. However, the demand is increasing more quickly than the supply.


"Every two weeks a new ship is completed and launched," said Li Zhonghua, an official who works on behalf of seafarers.


Official statistics show that China's port handling capacity was 2.8 billion tons in 2002 but had leapt dramatically to 4.91 billion tons in 2005. This year port handling capacity is expected to rise once again by 15 to 20 percent, said Li.


In recognition of the growing demand for sea transportation the administration invited nearly 300 experts and scholars from home and abroad to the forum to discuss potential solutions to the problem.


Already the administration has decided to take a number of measures this year.


Firstly, college students who major in engineering sciences and show an interest in the maritime industry will be actively encouraged to become part of the industry, said Li.


In the past only those who graduated from maritime colleges and institutions were permitted to take seafaring exams to become sailors. But now those who majored in engineering can go to sea as long as they receive further specific maritime training.  


In a second initiative, young people from rural areas, especially in western China, will be encouraged to embark on a career at sea. Traditionally Chinese sailors came from the eastern part of the country.


"On a sailor's income a family can be raised,” said Li. “For the poorer western areas it's a good opportunity to improve living standards," said Li.


To protect those going to sea, a regulation is expected this year which will clarify the requirements to become fully qualified seaman and detail their rights.


Newly trained sailors were firstly required to meet domestic demands but there could well be opportunities for them to work in other countries, according to Liu Gongchen.


It's been estimated that around 40,000 Chinese sailors are working on foreign vessels. This figure is small in comparison to the Philippines which has 250,000 sailors on board vessels from flying foreign flags. China actually has huge potential to 'export' trained and experienced seaman around the world.  


However, Egthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, pointed out that Chinese seafarers seeking employment opportunities abroad should remember the importance of the English language in the maritime industry. He pointed out that training in the language was important.  


"An inability to communicate properly will undermine even the best qualified seaman,” he said.


Since 2002 the forum has been held on four occasions. The administration has decided that Shanghai and Shenzhen should now host the event year about.  


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


(China Daily April 20, 2006)


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