From trading vessels that plied the waters of the Indian Ocean to the traditional fishing boats that are still in use today, the sea has always been central to the Maldivian way of life. This connection to the ocean had produced generations of skilled seafarers. Despite this proud heritage, the Maldives is struggling to maintain its position as a leading maritime nation in the 21st century.
Captain Mohamed Zaid is the Head of Centre of the Centre of Maritime Studies (CMS) at the Maldives National University (MNU). A man with decades of hands-on seafaring experience under his belt, Capt Zaid sat down with us to discuss the importance of maritime education and the challenges facing the industry in the Maldives.
From Firm Seafaring Roots
Capt Zaid’s passion for the maritime industry was instilled in him from a young age, thanks to his seafaring family. “My father was working at Maldives Shipping, and my mother also travelled a lot between Maldives and Colombo onboard ships. Both my parents were incredibly knowledgeable about shipping and seafaring”, he recalled.
After completing school, Capt Zaid spent three years at NSS before switching to MNSL in 1991, where his maritime career began. “Then and now, STCW says if you study under an approved programme, you get a record book. Otherwise, if you have 36 months of seafaring experience, you can join. We joined this way.” Capt Zaid explained, and then added, “Even today, for someone who wishes to work a few years and maybe make some money before getting the certification, this is a great option.” Capt Zaid worked as a Navigational Officer for some time before deciding to continue his studies in 2008. He did Mates and Masters combined, which took about a year to complete. In addition to MNSL, Capt Zaid worked with four international companies as Chief Mate internationally, where he says he learned a lot about the high standards expected in the maritime industry, and about working alongside people from different nationalities, ethnicities, and walks of life. In 2017, he got his Captain’s licence from Australia and spent one more contract as Chief Mate before being promoted to Captain. Capt Zaid continued sailing until early 2019 when he decided to switch to work onshore.
Even though he worked at the management level in large international companies, Capt Zaid always had a passion for teaching. Starting as a guest lecturer at the CMS in 2006, it made perfect sense for him to pursue this passion. In June 2020, Capt Zaid joined CMS as the Head of Centre, and since then, he has been dedicated to improving the quality of maritime education in the Maldives. His goal is to ensure that his students receive a well-rounded education to prepare them for the challenges of the industry.
Leading by Innovation
Capt Zaid emphasised that dedication is key to making his vision a reality. As per the requirements of the Government, CMS currently offers a Level Four Certificate course for the Officer-in-Charge of Navigational Watch, which is a one-year programme. However, Capt Zaid believes that a well-structured Degree-level programme would be more beneficial. “If it’s a Degree programme, then in one phase, a student would need seatime to complete tasks in a record book. They would come into the classroom with hands-on experience.”
CMS is also expanding and upgrading its infrastructure to meet the needs of the students. Capt Zaid proudly shared that they have established three full mission navigation simulators from Norway. “They are highly technologically advanced emulators, and if we decide to conduct pilot or captain courses, these simulators would play a huge role.”
Additionally, the CMS’s Survival Centre is being upgraded, and a new firefighting simulator is being added. The CMS is also exploring the use of e-learning to make courses more accessible. Capt Zaid explains, “We give priority to e-learning. We plan to provide short courses on Moodle, despite how difficult it is due to the very nature of the studies required for seafaring work. It is a milestone we hope to achieve soon.”
Capt Zaid is proud of his career and how he has changed people’s mindsets towards the maritime industry. His goal now is to have students who studied Second Officer start Captain training in the Maldives. However, there are challenges. One major challenge he noted is that despite creating international standards for marine engineers since 2012, there is no engineering department at CMS, making it difficult to offer the course at a Degree level.
He hopes to see marine engineering taught soon, but sourcing the curriculum and finding capable people is difficult.
Capt Zaid believes that the CMS has the potential to not only produce skilled seafarers but also to expand career opportunities for Maldivians. He noted, “Neighbouring Sri Lanka doesn’t own a lot of ships, but they supply huge human resources to other nations. The Maldives can do the same.” The ultimate goal is to offer a degree programme that provides students with hands-on experience and a certificate of competency along with a Bachelor’s Degree. This will open up numerous career opportunities for students.
“Maldivian seafarers, their work ethic, and their dedication is something that is still celebrated by seafarers around the world. We need to take advantage of this.”
Well-Rounded Education For a Well-Rounded Workforce
To encourage more students to pursue maritime careers, CMS is trying to start non-seagoing shipping-related courses. Captain Zaid noted that “most people are not aware of how diverse the maritime industry is.” He believes that there are many opportunities available in the maritime industry, such as naval architecture, ship design, interior work, logistics, ship brokering, and even cybersecurity. He revealed that the cruise side of the maritime industry is even more interesting, as it’s basically a floating resort. “We Maldivians are the global experts at isolated resorts. There is a huge scope to mix tourism and maritime work in the Maldives,” he noted.
The industry is changing with the times, and Captain Zaid notes that the younger generation is more tech-savvy and now demands things such as internet access aboard ships, mentioning a forthcoming labour convention regarding internet availability and a law that will regulate it. He has also been advocating for the recruitment of more female seafarers to address the gender imbalance in the maritime industry. Capt Zaid believes that getting more women in the maritime industry could bring about great positive change.
“Nearly 75 per cent of all graduates at MNU are women, every year. It shows, to me at least, that women are more than capable of this,” he noted. To encourage young women to consider the industry, CMS has been proactive in showing female students successful examples, such as a celebrity cruise where all the Captains and Crew are female. “I want to give them confidence that women can do this. This is a career that women can excel at,” He also highlighted that the industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world, with strict codes of discipline and zero tolerance for discriminatory behaviour. However, he recognised that there is still work to be done to address the gender imbalance in the industry and the wage gap between male and female seafarers on a global scale.
Maritime education plays a vital role in the development of the Maldives’ maritime industry. While there are certainly challenges ahead, the CMS’ commitment to maritime education and its investment in state-of-the-art facilities give a reason for optimism.
“I think the government’s thinking is good now. They are working very hard to revive this industry. It is there in the action plan too, but it would take time.” Capt Zaid mused. “We are talking about reviving an entire industry. A monumental task like this will, of course, be brimming with difficulties, but I am ready to face them head-on.”
Concluding the interview, Capt Zaid took the time to impart some sound advice to young people looking to build a fulfilling and exciting career.
“Whether it’s officer level or engineering, the Government is paying your course fees if you want to join the maritime industry. This is the right time, it’s the golden opportunity, the best time to join. People are willing to develop you, take advantage of that.”