“Since years, we have tried to convince the government to accept ‘okay-to-board’ letters in lieu of visas for seafarers. They have become more flexible in the last few years,” says Payangu.
A specific directive that addresses the peculiarities of this sector covering orientation, training and labour approval process have been pointed out by recruiters. Penetrating this market is equally challenging as Nepal already is at a disadvantage given its landlocked status and geographical constraints.
“Workers do not leave the contracts once they get the job so opportunities for new workers can be limited. Many workers stay until they retire because there isn’t really a reason to leave,” he explains. Nepal has not been able to leverage the available opportunities.
Nepali workers don’t have basic English language skills. There are more options for security guards, housekeeping and food and beverage if there were more skilled Nepalis, says Payangu.
“We also need the administrative process to be made simpler. Employers don’t have a reason to tolerate the delays in worker deployment from Nepal due to administrative hassles if they can get a Filipino within days,” says Payangu.
“As a recruiter, I can sleep better when I can send maritime workers because cases of abuse, non-payment of wages, contract infringement, is very low,” he says.
Those who have worked at sea also emphasise the skills factor, highlighting especially the need for English language proficiency.
“There are a lot of opportunities but my advice to incoming Nepalis is to have a longer time horizon. They may manage to get in without basic skills like English language with the help of intermediaries and by paying high recruitment costs, but this will work against them once they are on the ship.” says Dipendra Thapa.
There is also the issue of obtaining seaman’s logbook, which is a mandatory requirement that records seafaring experiences. Nepalis currently have to obtain it from India. In 2018, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali announced that seamen’s logbook would be issued in Nepal itself. But since it has not materialised, workers are compelled to obtain it from the Indian government, meaning Nepal is also losing out on the revenue.
Training institutes are cropping up in Nepal that provide the mandatory certification required prior to obtaining the seaman’s logbook. The 14 day course covers fire-fighting, first aid, personal survival skills, personal safety and social responsibility and security training for seafarers and designated security duties.
The completion of the course comes with the Standard Training Certification, followed by logbooks to be obtained from India. Uptake, however, is still low, says Pawan Thapa, training director at Universal Maritime Institute.
Kamal Subedee, an alumni of the institute says that the training is helpful for those who are unfamiliar with the environment onboard ocean-going ships.
“There is not much time to adjust to the completely unfamiliar context and the ship-lingo, even for someone like me who had previously worked for a decade in the UAE in the hotel line,” he says. “The training period helps me, because the minute you embark it is go-time. Being at sea also keeps you alert as you are unsure about what could happen because you are always moving in the middle of nowhere. Safety skills under your belt do make you feel a little more confident and assured.”