This neat article on Bangladesh and its maritime aspirations and achievements came across my desktop recently; I thought it quite insightful. I like the comment that marine engineers are regarded as equivalent to senior officials in government and in the private sector. Most modern countries see engineering officers as no more than a plumber or electrician. Interesting to read overall.
FEW countries are more intimately linked with maritime transport than Bangladesh, and few countries are in greater need of deploying the sector more productively to raise the level of the economy.
A group of marine specialists is determined to spur this growth. They are linked in common cause through the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology. The Bangladesh Branch is one of 47 IMarEST branches globally and one of the most active.
In recent times, the country has been plunged into the agony of Cyclone Sidr, which killed more than 2,000 residents, and caused the massive tidal surge that devastated three coastal towns and forced more than 1m people to leave their homes.
Floods in mid-year killed more than 1,000 people. Bangladesh is battered by storms every year, but water is a potentially much more of a life supporter than a threat.
Sajid Hussain, principal of MAS Maritime Academy is one of those determined to encourage the new generations to turn “poor Bangla” into a Shapnapuri (dreamland).
No-one could doubt the enthusiasm of Mr Hussain. He has written seven books, 15 research/technical papers and 175 articles on institute and industry topics.
Given that Bangladesh is sited on the world’s largest delta, for obvious reasons more than 90% of its trade is transported by sea and rivers. Hence, shipping and seafarers are always considered to be the most important factor for development of the national economy, says Mr Hussain.
In shipbreaking, through the last three decades, Bangladesh has emerged as a leading country and in terms of larger ships, it is top and in terms of numbers, second to India.
With an acute shortage of seafaring personnel, and shore experts, after breaking away from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladeshi ships had to be run by foreign officers. But soon this shortage was over. Traditionally, Bangladeshi officers used to go to UK for their certificates of competence. The number of trained (mainly by the UK) local marine officers started increasing and the trend continues, as a result of world demand. A good number of Bangladeshi officers are enjoying employment in foreign ships.
In spite of financial and other constraints, Bangladesh has a total of around 40 ocean-going vessels in the public and private sectors, totalling around 400,000 dwt. About 95% of overseas trading is routed through the ports of Chittagong and Mongla. The government has been pursuing a policy of encouraging the private sector to grow side by side, to share its responsibility towards the national shipping trade.
“The social status of a marine engineer or marine scientist in Bangladesh is well recognised,” says Mr Hussain. “On the one hand, he is a prudent technologist and on the other, considered as a smart citizen earning good name and fame for the country.
“Thus he is always warmly welcomed at all corners of our society. In a word, every citizen of Bangladesh respects a marine engineer for having a spontaneous quality of working independently, along with technical leadership.”
A marine engineer with a class one certificate of competence is regarded officially as equivalent to a senior government officer, associate professor in an university or a general manager in a private office.
It is generally estimated that there are around 2,000 marine engineers in Bangladesh. Besides sailing in Bangladesh, as well as in foreign flag vessels often of blue-chip brand, these engineers, described by Mr Hussain as “truly international by profession, certification (mostly UK certificate holders) and competence,” are increasingly seen to be in high-ranking techno-management positions in the three broad areas of Bangladesh shipping.
These areas are maritime administration, shipping trade and maritime education. They are also enjoying roles as ship operators, market analysts, shipmanagers, shipbuilders, shiprepairers, marine equipment makers, towage and salvage operators, ship financiers, marine insurance personnel, maritime lawyers, shipbreakers, shipbrokers, marine consultants, maritime lecturers, marine surveyors and port managers.
Of particular note, a group of Bangladeshi marine engineers are performing a key role in the operation and maintenance of the country’s recently installed barge-mounted power plants that are meeting half of the country’s electricity demand.
A developing country like Bangladesh, says Mr Hussain, needs an integrated economy. Obviously, to a large degree, it is dependent on the foreign earnings.
The specific role of the Bangladesh maritime industry is to ensure and continuously develop that economy by providing employment, supply (export/import) and earning foreign currency. This is a truism, but its relevance can be seen from the fact that Bangladesh earns 70%-80% of its national revenue through Chittagong port. All this points to a series of requirements.
The maritime industry needs basic infrastructure to be masterminded by the government, and easier procedures for private entrepreneurs in establishing their own maritime/shipping businesses with facilities such as tax-waivers.
In the vast shiprepair, shipbreaking and rising shipbuilding sector, Bangladesh needs to adapt more clearly to modern technology.
A large drydock to take panamax vessels is essential. “There is huge opportunity to develop the shipbuilding sector technologically,” Mr Hussain says. He advocates gtovernment subsidy or a tax holiday or exemption for the shipbuilding industry, to help win foreign orders.
“Our country needs steel mills to produce shipbuilding plates. At present raw materials like steel plates are being imported from overseas.”
Nor are there any companies building engines under license in Bangladesh.
A fully-fledged salvage unit is required for Chittagong port. The good news is that Prantik Marine Services, an internationally reputed local salvage company, has been looking at the possibilities of having a salvage unit stationed in Chittagong, in partnership with Smit Salvage.
Bangladesh is suffering from huge power shortage of 2,000 MW per day. “The country desperately needs power plants,” says Mr Hussain, “so perhaps it is time to think of setting up nuclear power plants, if we look at the population of our country, which is 150m and rising.
While the government is doing its best to attract foreign investors in all sectors of business including maritime, and there is a national fleet of 12 ocean-going ships including tankers, the IMarEST Bangladesh branch is providing valuable grassroots input.
The branch has a special interest in keeping all maritime personnel, including marine engineers, up to date with international developments, and upholding and upgrading professional standards through technical seminars and professional counselling for marine cadets.
Awareness among entrepreneurs is being fostered through technical seminars conducted by experts.
In contrast to problems in many parts of the world, there is no skill shortage in the country, says Mr Hussain, although foreign experts have been drafted to work on some projects.
The IMarEST Bangladesh branch was established in 1990 and formally inaugurated in March 1992. Later it was incorporated into the the organisation’s mid-east division. The branch is a member of the National Maritime Council and is invited by the ministry of shipping to comment on any changes or amendments in national maritime legislation or policy.
Since 2005, jointly with the local Nautical Institute, the branch has introduced reception and counselling to the cadets who pass out from the Bangladesh Marine Academy; 60 cadets at the end of 2005, and 69 a year later.
According to currnet branch chairman C F Zaman, the long-term goal of the branch is is to establish itself as a true umbrella body for all the marine engineers, scientists and technologists of Bangladesh and to be a fulcrum of the country’s economy. There are plans for its own premises, where a library for the members and non-members will be available. Space for rent will allow the branch to have its own source of revenue.