India reopens seafarer training centres after prolonged shutdown

An Indian seafarer working on board a vessel. Credit: SCI

As part of a phased lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, India has told maritime training institutes (MTIs) to resume seafarers’ coaching and training activities.

The Directorate General of Shipping (DG Shipping) confirmed the move in standard operating procedure (SOP) issued last week. The DG Shipping had suspended seafarers’ training across the country for an indefinite period in late March when infection cases began rising.

“The Directorate has now decided to permit operation of post- and pre-sea MTI based on a risk assessment and mitigation methodology detailed in SOP on [a] phase-wise unlocking of training activities at MTI to enable safe resumption of training or teaching activities,” the DG Shipping said. “All pre-sea MTI can start conduct of practical training after compliance with necessary conditions detailed in [the] SOP, while post-sea can start preparation for opening of MTI in accordance with [the] SOP for post-sea MTI for conduct of practical or simulator training pending issuance of [an] addendum to DG Shipping’s order with necessary modifications.”

Ahead of starting practical sessions, MTIs will need to ensure that all joiners have a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction test, obtained within 48 hours prior to their reporting time, and follow a minimum 14-day isolation period upon joining.

“After [the] 14-day quarantine period, MTI may relax the requirements after ensuring that candidates under quarantine do not mix with candidates who have come out of quarantine,” the advisory stated.

The SOP also noted that MTIs will have to carry out on-site courses with one-third of the normal number of students, ostensibly to ensure social distancing norms. However, training institutes located in a containment zone – where there are active COVID-19 cases – will not be permitted to reopen until such local controls are removed. Similarly, the staff and students of marine academies whose residence is in a COVID-19-affected area will be barred from attending on-site activities.

With the lockdown restrictions on the use of swimming pools, training centres will not have the mandate to conduct International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) courses that typically require seafarers to enter water.

Given the commuting difficulties caused by limited public transport systems, the DG Shipping has suggested that MTIs work in a co-ordinated, hand-to-hand manner in which the students could choose a convenient location for their physical training courses provided all the infection control steps are strictly enforced.

The notification stated that candidates who have successfully finished the three-tier mechanism of training, which involves e-learning, different virtual classes, practical sessions at the centre, and the exit examination, will be awarded a course completion certificate valid for 18 months. The certificate will be replaced with a regular seafarer certificate upon their completion of the remaining STCW courses after the government allows the reopening of swimming pools.