Reconnecting to those days of glory
By Iman Fiqrie Bin Muhammad (LCDR, USN ret)
Lecturer, Malaysian Maritime Academy
According to the State of Shipping Industry and Forward Looking Perspectives, “The world needs daring and decisive political leadership”.
Niagara Falls, New York
Recently, I was on a well deserved vacation back to my home country
of the United States and the city of Niagara Falls, NY, where I was born
and raised, to visit my family and unwind a little bit. I hadn’t been home
in quite a number of years; I had retired to Malaysia directly from the military in about 2005, got married and had been in Malaysia ever since. While on vacation, I also had an editing deadline for this newsletter to worry about and was also a bit pressed for a specific topic to write about. I read and write a lot, so having material isn’t the problem. As one would have it, I had also just gotten off a shipboard attachment onboard an LNG vessel, so this became the subject of one other article in this month’s newsletter.
Maritime Education and Quality Education
There’s been a lot written in previous GlobalMET newsletters, forums and the web in general about maritime education and training (MET) and industry revolving around the need for MET to “step up” the quality of training, the use of new technologies in course curriculums, taking more responsibility for talent development of both educators and cadets, acknowledging MET’s own shortcomings and pretty much doing something about the apparent abyssal state of affairs in MET and industry with reference to quality and standards.
Recapturing the old days of glory
A similar theme can be said to reside in my own hometown of Niagara Falls, NY (NF), known to many as one of the seven wonders of the world; not so much maritime education, but education in general, new technologies and just plain recapturing the former glory the Falls used to have in its earlier years as the place to go and having a strong regional cultural heritage. I can attest first hand there are many issues in NF regarding a myriad of standards and requirements for education, culture and money matters. In this newsletter, I’d like to try and draw a few parallels between MET and my hometown not by speaking directly or too hard about maritime issues as this hadn’t seemed to have work that well before; besides, talking about Niagara Falls and linking it to maritime is a good diversion, Figure 1 refers.
Figure 1 – American and Canadian Falls overlooking the Maid of Mist boats
The State of Niagara Falls parallels maritime education and training
The state of NF is not good, 4 of 6 schools in NF out 276 schools total in Western NY, rank in the bottom 25%, there are issues abound with city debt, payments and the tax base; and, a number of families live at or near the poverty line. My father’s been in NF for nearly seven decades, is an avid photographer and handed me a historical photo album about the Falls from the 1800s to about 1969 in which while looking through it I gleaned some important core principles and themes that seemed to help make Niagara Falls the great attraction and cultural heritage that it was, used to be and seemed to now be in decline. The idea here being maybe to ascertain the reason for the city’s apparent decline and draw some parallels to MET.
A little soul searching for maritime education and training
Maritime education and training and industry could probably do with some similar soul searching to try and analyze and get back to the glory days when maritime shipping was great, as significant shortfalls in the industry exists today. As a matter of importance, the maritime industry is extremely important as much of the world’s good and services are economically shipped this way, it also serves many humanitarian purposes, and according to some sources–serves as a primary driver to some of the most important economies in the world. There’s also a cultural heritage aspect and love affair that many countries have with the sea– so why is there a shortfall in seafarers? People don’t want to go to sea?
The maritime industry is becoming more and more complex every day, ships getting bigger and requirements ever increasing; at the center of this is the seafarer himself; and without well trained, educated and technologically competent seafarers– the maritime industry could also be in a state of continual decline.
Core principals and values
As an observation of the core principles, themes and values that made
Niagara Falls the great city that it was, the following were noted:
- Community engagement. This meant that the people of Niagara were
actively involved in all aspects of city; community development, activities
and progress– to include preservation of the environment.
- Preparedness and action. The city community seemed to take to heart
personal responsibility, accountability and a call to action to make the
- Community enrichment. The people seemed grounded and for the
most part in tune with their surroundings, like family and made the effort
to help foster and enrich the community.
- Technology. The Falls provided a natural power source and was for its
time was on the cutting edge of technology and power generation, this
attracted a lot of industry to Niagara Falls, but in some ways provided of
source of conflict for Naturalists.
- Public service. The people of Niagara Falls went out of their way to
put others first, serve others, look out for one another, and volunteer
their time and expertise to make the city great. This has since subsided
significantly, people are now doing what my old teacher used to refer as
“…it’s doggy dog out there, ice cream for me– @#!& for you”.
Tourism. Tourism has, is and seems will always be a mainstay for Niagara
Falls because of the Falls, but in no small part due to good management.
Figure 2 – Proud To Be A Mariner – An Anglo-Eastern Initiative
Making a difference
Maybe all of the above but the last one also seems to be relevant core
principles for MET and the maritime industry as well. I get the sense, however,
when I walk around and speak with people in my hometown and MET that
they mostly complain, but rarely want to do what’s required to make a
difference– often asking what’s in it for me; this seems more so in MET and
the maritime industry. When it comes down to it, it seems we haven’t learned
from our forefathers or the last twenty years or so of lessons learned.
Taking too many things for granted
We also seemed to take many things for granted these days, even though
Global Warming and Climate Change says we should be more than concerned
about the state of affairs. As much, seems we can’t turn the corner on doing
the right things or what’s required to make things better– mostly people
seem concerned about making the all mighty dollar! Follow the money as
No time for young seafarers and mentoring
Take this newsletter, for example, most everyone I solicit for writing articles
asks if they get paid for writing articles or they have no time; no time for
the young seafarers they complain about when they get to the ship. Where
one spends one time or gives one attention is what thrives and gets better.
We barely have a enough articles for this edition and there are hundreds of
maritime professionals out there, many of which again are complaining about
the level of knowledge of cadets and newly certified officers–yet themselves
have little to contribute (recall the core themes above) except when it
The journey back to our own success
In conclusion, on my soul searching journey back to my hometown, I seemed
to have plugged into something and realize that core values and proactive
participation in our own success are relevant and what matters in order to
achieve the future we see for ourselves. What kind of future does MET and
the maritime industry see for themselves? I haven’t really seen an articulated
mission and vision with that in mind. It’s about time we start to articulate a
vision and value proposition about the kind of MET and industry that will
return us to greatness, the pride of nations and make future seafarers want to
go to sea and love it, Figure 2 refers.