|Mark Dodd | The Australian November 29, 2008
Article from: The Australian
THE qualifications required to be a commercial fisherman will be sufficient to enter the navy as the Defence Department aims to plug gaping recruitment holes in the skills-deprived force.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Royal Australian Navy yesterday agreed to recognise equivalent qualifications, providing a wider range of career opportunities for both RAN seaman officers and their civilian counterparts. The agreement will allow for the easier transfer of civilian maritime qualifications into the military.
Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon said yesterday: "With appropriate bridging courses, naval officers are now able to obtain the competencies required for certification to master civilian vessels.
"Conversely, the qualifications of civilian mariners would be more easily recognised by navy, providing career opportunities in the service of their country."
Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the agreement had been struck at a time when the local maritime industry was facing the challenges of an ageing workforce.
The navy is faring the worst of the three services in terms of declining personnel numbers, especially in the skilled trades area. Only three of its six Collins-class submarines can put to sea because of a chronic shortage of qualified submariners.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has warned navy chiefs he expects a big improvement in the recruitment and retention figures.
With three new air warfare destroyers and two amphibious helicopter carriers on order, Mr Fitzgibbon warns that there is little point in the navy acquiring new billion-dollar warships unless it has the crew to serve on them.
In the past four years, the navy has only achieved between 67 per cent and 79 per cent of its recruitment targets.
New figures provided to The Australian last month show the situation remains dire, with the navy achieving only 53 per cent of its year-to-date enlistment targets for 2008-09 by September 30.
The navy is at present experiencing a 36 per cent shortfall in submariners and a 13.3 per cent shortage in its trained workforce.
Mr Snowdon said the new arrangements would create a bigger pool of mariners, some ofwhom might like to sample life in uniform on a full-time or reserve basis.
The agreement places the qualifications gained by RAN seaman officers on par with an internationally recognised certificate of competence issued under the international convention on standards, training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers.