Malaysian Seafarers: The Need for Policy Review


Shortage of Malaysian seafarers to man Malaysian ships has been a long standing issue. The association of Malaysian professional seafarers IKMAL noted a drop from 77% Malaysian seafarers on Malaysian ships in 1994 to only about 50% in 2001 (Jaffar Lamri, President IKMAL. Personal Communication 8 June 2004). This is substantiated by a study done by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA), a research institute under the Ministry of Transport Malaysia (Noor Apandi, 2001). Apart from the obvious reason as the driving force for the shipping sector, sea experience is also relevant to many of the shore based jobs in the maritime industry. The maritime industry includes manufacturing, that is, ship building, resource extraction, that is, gas, services, that is, ports, fisheries and shipping, etc (Mak and Nesathurai, 2000). A study published by Marine Policy in 1999 identifies more than 20 business categories where seafaring experience is considered as an advantage by employers (Gardner and Pettit, 1999). As the industry grows so will the need for human resources. Therefore, it is important to have an adequate supply of trained and experienced manpower pool to feed these requirements.

This paper will revisit this issue with the aim to establish the current seafarer profile serving on Malaysian ships; identify issues, problems and possible solutions to increase the number of Malaysian seafarers.

Malaysian shipping

Development of the Malaysian shipping industry is the result of a national policy which emphasises a greater self sufficiency in shipping services (WTO, 2002). It is aimed at reducing outflow of freight payments to non-national shipping lines. In line with this, the government felt that there is a necessity to promote the growth of a national merchant fleet. As a result, the Malaysian shipping fleet continues to expand, as illustrated in the statistics compiled by the Ministry of Transport, Malaysia (Malaysian Shipping Registry). According to these, from a total of 3,033 ships in 1999, the fleet has grown to 3,582 ships, or 18%, by 2003.

Table 1 lists the type and number of ships registered in Malaysia from 1982 to August 2003 (MOT et al., 2003).

Table 1 - Ships registered in Malaysia from 1992 to 2003.
Table 1 -  - Unfortunately we are unable to provide accessible alternative text for this. If you require assistance to access this image, please contact or the authorFull table (23K)

Malaysian maritime traning

There are 13 institutes in Malaysia, approved by the Marine Department (MARDEP), which provide seafarers training (Marine Department of Malaysia, 2004). Only two of these provide training to new entrants: Maritime Academy Malaysia (ALAM) for cadets and ratings, and Politeknik Ungku Omar (PUO) for engine cadets only. The remaining 11 institutions only provide modular courses that are required by the industry, for example, fire fighting, survival, communication and security courses. These modular courses are mandatory short courses that seafarers must take in addition to their main curriculum in order to comply with STCW 95 and to maintain their professional certification.

Almost all maritime trainees in Malaysia are sponsored from the moment that they are accepted for training. The trainees are then bonded to service their sponsors. Sponsors include shipping companies, ports and government agencies.

In 2001, it was found that not many youngsters are applying to join the seafaring career. In 2004, there is a complete reversal with ALAM receiving more than 10,000 applications for 200 available places (ALAM, 2004). The main reason for this is likely to be the success of promotion of seafaring career by ALAM and the industry.

However, the number of those accepted does not increase correspondingly due to various reasons. Chief among these is the fact that there is a decline in sponsorship for cadets, and difficulty in finding berth for training and employment on board ships (Zainal, 2004). The difficulty in finding berth for training is experienced by non-ship-owning sponsors and self-sponsored trainees. Practical training on board is essential as part of the process for certification. Those unable to obtain berth for training on board will therefore not be able to continue their certification process. For example, a cadet who does not go through practical training on board ship will not be able to move on to become an officer.

MIMA's 2004 seafarer survey

In order to obtain the current profile of seafarers serving on Malaysian ships, survey questionnaires were sent to more than 200 companies identified as shipping companies in Malaysia. These companies were selected using the Malaysian Maritime Directory, members list from Malaysian Ship-owners Association (MASA) and MIMA's correspondence list. Telephone calls were made to further confirm their nature of business. The companies involved range from a national shipping company operating hundreds of ships, to a one-ship company. The sample covers those engaged in international, domestic and near coastal trade.

The questionnaire used for the survey is divided into four sections. Section one gathers information about the company, section two about the ships managed or owned by the company, section three about the seafarers employed by the company and section four on employment and training.

Incentives for malaysia shipping

The shipping industry in Malaysia has been enjoying a generous tax incentive scheme. The incentives include tax exemption for the income of a shipping company derived from the operation of Malaysian ships, and this also applies to the income of any person derived from exercising an employment on board a Malaysian ship (MIDA, 2004).

Apart from tax exemption, the Government, through Bank Industri & Teknologi Malaysia, provides the industry with an RM1 billion shipping provident fund.

Consolidating the facts

Judging by the shipping registry records, Malaysian shipping is expanding. The numbers of Malaysian seafarers are not increasing corresponding to this. Training institutions are getting more applications than ever but have to limit new entrants as there is difficulty in finding berth for training and employment on board ships. There is no specific requirement for Malaysian content on Malaysian ships apart from the Domestic Shipping Licensing Board requirements. Shipping has been enjoying tax exemptions and access to funds.

Concluding remarks

Malaysian shipping has been and is still relying on the services of foreign seafarers to man its ships. In 2001, a MIMA study on this issue pointed out the problem of attracting new entrants to the industry. Promotion of career at sea is advocated to overcome this problem. After 3 years, the problem evolved. It was reported by maritime training institutions that they now have more than 10,000 applicants for a limited number of training places. The bottleneck is identified as the lack of sufficient berths for practical training on board ships. The onus is now on Malaysian shipping companies to show their support in overcoming this problem. According to the 2004 survey, 90% of them say that it is important to have Malaysian seafarers on Malaysian ships, only 43% are training/planning to train cadets, and only 49% are willing to provide berths for training based on a case-to-case basis.

Malaysian government's policy to promote its shipping sector seems to have succeeded; however, the only highlight with respect to human resources is the requirement of its Domestic Shipping License Board (DSLB). Shipping companies applying for domestic shipping license claim that they are unable to find suitable Malaysian seafarers while the training institutions say that their graduates are awaiting berth (Saripah Abd Mutalib, Ministry of Transport, Personal Communication, 18 March 2004). For all intent and purpose, both might be true statements. There are Malaysian seafarers trained and qualified but as far as shipping companies are concerned it is more convenient to man, their ships through agencies supplying complete manning requirements, that is, from the Philippines or Indonesia rather than selecting individual Malaysian officers or crew.

To remedy this situation, Malaysia will need to review her policy on shipping and integrate human resource development within the industry's framework. There is a need to tie up tax incentives or access to funds to training new entrants to the industry. A good example would be the UK Tonnage Tax regime, which clearly identifies training to be one of its requirements (Brownrigg et al., 2001).

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