A maritime student undergoing practical lessons at a commercial port.
UMT nautical science students running ship simulations in the nautical lab.
Halim Mohammad (standing, right) with students on board Meritus University’s floating university.

THE maritime sector is of crucial importance to modern societies. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development 2017 cites that 90 per cent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the maritime sector is more than just ocean-based transportation and its management.

Industry components include the naval industry comprising naval engineering and shipbuilding companies, and the component supply sector; commercial fishing and aquaculture industry; the cruise and recreational sector; sport and commercial ports and marinas; marine and ocean research and sciences; and maritime training academies and training centres.

The maritime sector is a potential source of vibrant employment and career opportunities, especially for Malaysia, a trading and maritime nation.

The Straits of Malacca carries 80 per cent of trade between the east and west, making it one of the world’s busiest routes in the world. Add the recent One Belt One Road initiative by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Malaysia is on the world maritime logistics map with immediate landbridge investment in the Port of Kuantan, Port Klang and the East Coast Rail Link linking Tumpat in Kelantan to Port Klang.

The Melaka Gateway is another venture by Chinese investors that will help spearhead the development of the tourism sector while the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex development drives global shipping and supply chain activities.

All these augur well for the country because it is also an exporting nation, noted shipping tycoon Tan Sri Halim Mohammad, the founder and executive chairman of formerly listed Halim Mazmin Bhd which has diversified business interests in shipping, aviation, education, hospitality and tourism.

“The shipping industry in this region is poised for tremendous growth and along with the dynamic environment of the shipping industry, it is expected that professionals, industrial leaders as well as managers with the capabilities to analyse and deal with the growth and highly competitive nature of the industry will be much sought after.

“In addition, managers are expected to apply their knowledge of theories, concepts and shipping practices to facilitate sound decision-making with the use of strategic management tools to seek opportunities,” said Halim.

To provide a platform for prospective executives and managers to learn and be prepared for the critical tasks of leading shipping and business-related organisations in the expanding industry, Halim Mazmin has established Meritus University specialising in maritime education.

Situated at Mid Valley City in Kuala Lumpur, it also has a floating campus off Langkawi, a first in the region.

“Meritus unveiled its maiden degree programme — the three-year Bachelor of Science (Honours) Maritime Business — last year. The course has been fully vetted by myself and in consultation with the industry in compliance with its demands.

“Therefore, when a student graduates, he or she will have a full grasp of industry expectations in the workplace. Those with this qualification can not only work in Malaysia but also Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China and any country with a maritime industry,” he added.

The degree programme comprises 70 per cent maritime content and 30 per cent business. “Students will find it interesting because it is not purely technical: they will spend time in class at the Kuala Lumpur campus and at sea in our floating campus, sailing on a ship.”

Meritus students attend a 21-day outdoor leadership programme on board Halim Mazmin vessels to experience life at sea. “This course offers students exposure on board a ship — they will sail, learn to manage all parts of the ship and how it runs while looking into scheduling, drydocking, insurance and the legal aspects.

“If something happens at sea, the students must be able to support the captain.”

Prior to this, Halim said it takes two or three years for a business or finance graduate to join the maritime industry and understand the shipping jargon. Upon graduation at Meritus, students will not only have a degree but also the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport qualification.

“So, Meritus offers a shorter route. Its graduates will be able to contribute immensely to their industry of choice rather than go through a stage of two to three years before they take up management positions and responsibilities in shipping and logistics companies, port authorities and finance companies.”

Meritus also has a foundation course and the Master’s in Business Administration programme. The Masters of Science in Shipping, Trade and Finance programme is in the pipeline.

SEAFARERS

As much as there is a need for management professionals in the maritime sector, there is also an urgent demand for those sailing the seas.

Malaysia’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) ambassador Captain Nazri Abu Hassan said there are 1.6 million seafarers worldwide of whom 700,000 are officers and 800,000 are ratings (non-officers).

In Malaysia, there are 3,000 local officers sailing Malaysian ships but there is a constant demand for 5,000 officers annually to fill vacancies.

“Officers refer to either deck or engineering officers who manage the ship. The certification and qualification of officers are governed by IMO convention and regulations. With a Certificate of Competency (COC), Malaysians can work abroad and foreigners can work in Malaysia.

“However, more foreign workers with the COC are coming here to work than Malaysians with the qualification going overseas,” said Nazri.

IMO is one of the pillars for the global maritime sector. Its primary purpose is to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit today includes safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping.

“Officers do the navigating and engineering — basically controlling the ship, making sure everything is in a safe environment.

“Currently many of the foreign seafarers on Malaysian vessels are from the Philippines, Ukraine, India and mostly Indonesia (50 per cent).

“Renumeration starts from RM5,000 for first officers and an average of RM30,000 for captains. Junior officers are around 21 years of age and they progress to second officer and then captain in seven years, depending on vacancies on the ship.

“We have global players in our shipping industry and we have world-class seafarers. But we have shortage in terms of personnel every year,” he added.

Thirty training centres in the country produce certifications related to IMO. Institutions of Higher Learning producing officer-level personnel include Akademi Laut Malaysia (cadetship and marine engineering), Politeknik Ungku Omar (marine engineering), Universiti Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Institute of Marine Engineering Technology (UniKL MIMET) and Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT).

“To be able to sail, graduates must have the COC and this is often embedded into the diploma or degree programmes. For example, Akademi Laut Malaysia students attend two years of lectures and 12 months of seatime. If they don’t complete the seatime, they cannot get the COC and their diploma to sail.

“This is the current hurdle and the Seafarer Management Centre under the Maritime Department of Malaysia is trying to close the gap between Malaysian ship owners and education institutions to enable students to graduate with the necessary qualification.”

There is lack of awareness about opportunities in the maritime sector among parents and school-leavers.

“The seafaring career is a safe profession whether you’re a male or a female as it is regulated by IMO. There are specific conventions to protect against harassment and bullying. This field is not new to Malaysia and we should be training more Malaysians for it. Twenty-one is the best age to explore the world and its multi-disciplines. The Higher Education Ministry should look into ways to create awareness and get more students ready for this vibrant industry.

“The Youth and Sports Ministry also has a role to play as the Transport Ministry’s role is more of reviewing and enforcing standards.”

COLLABORATION AND RESEARCH

The Higher Education Ministry recently appointed UMT as the lead university for the Industry Centre of Excellence (ICoE) for the Maritime Cluster.

The ICoE aims to enhance the relationship between universities and the industry, and improve the employability of graduates. It is seen as a win-win situation as industry-ready graduates increase employability and the industry recruits human capital that meets its needs.

UMT vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Nor Aieni Mokhtar said: “The role of UMT is to provide the direction for the maritime industry especially in preparing relevant and competent manpower for it.

“One of its aims is the strategic plan for Shipbuilding and Ship Repair (SBSR 2020) under the Ministry of Transport.” UMT has identified strategic partners to realise the objectives of the ICoE Maritime Cluster.

“The university has signed the Memorandum of Agreement with Technology Depository Agency (TDA), Destini Bhd and Port of Tanjung Pelepas as our industry partners and collaborators.”

The industry partners will work hand-in-hand with the university in the areas of maritime research and consultation. Companies play an important role in providing feedback on the skills and jobs required by the industry.

“For a start, UMT and its partners have agreed on collaborating and developing the local shipbuilding industry. There is a consensus that the country should embark on developing local talent in ship design as the demand for ships in the country may be different. Designs from overseas should only be brought in for very specialised vessels,” added Nor Aieni.

UMT has also been qualified as an Industry Collaboration Project (ICP) Recipient with TDA. Due to this recognition, UMT will receive ICP projects based on its expertise in the fields of marine science and maritime studies. TDA is finalising several projects that need the expertise of lecturers from UMT as consultants. Through TDA, UMT has also been engaged in discussions with the industry on projects related to wave energy and fisheries.

“TDA has made arrangements to award UMT with several quick win projects that will be finalised soon. We believe with the involvement of UMT in these ICP projects, technology transfer in the maritime field will be leveraged and further enhanced.

“We have an agreement with Destini Bhd that will ensure that UMT students’ industrial training related to Shipbuilding and Ship Repair will be prioritised. The university together with the industry are developing special training modules to enhance the technical skills of students in the design and building of ships; electrical and electronics in marine engineering; nautical science; and maritime engineering. These modules will bridge the gap between the academic-oriented curriculum and skills training at the shipyard.”

As for the university’s partnership with the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, 40 UMT students from various programmes, namely Bachelor of Management (Maritime), Bachelor of Applied Science (Maritime Technology) and Bachelor of Applied Science (Nautical Studies and Maritime Transport), had visited the port on Nov 12.

The students toured the facilities and got first-hand information about port operations from industry players. Twelve UMT graduates will join the Port Planning Apprentice programme specifically designed to equip them to be associate planners for the port.

“The port and UMT are also finalising the 3U (university) 1i (industry) programme. The 3u1i programme is a high impact collaboration programme whereby students work and earn as they learn and gain industry experience.” For 2018, the focus will be on developing the Bachelor of Management (Maritime) as a 3U1i programme. In addition, the Port of Tanjung Pelepas has shown interest in developing UMT’s engineering programme as part of the 3U1i initiative.

The university believes that collaborations between academia and industries are an important platform to train future talent in the maritime sector and thus reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign expertise.

“It is our sincere hope that the Maritime ICoE will become a reference centre for the development of highly skilled talent for the country’s maritime sector.”

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