Seafaring officers are responsible for piloting ships, delivering the cargo and the well-being of the crew.
Those who want to join the sector in Singapore have to pass examinations conducted by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and clock minimum months at sea before they can be promoted to the next level.
The MPA has qualified 140 Singaporeans as ship captains. But the majority of them, about 80 in all, are doing shore-based work rather than taking ships out to sea.
About half of these qualified captains are aged 50 and above. About one-third are under 40.
Only 10 of the 140 Singaporean ship captains are women.
Seafaring officers typically join shipping companies as permanent staff, but are paid only when they are deployed out at sea, usually on six-month sea contracts. Periods of rest in between range from one to three months.
Their career path starts from cadet level, gradually progressing up the ladder to being a captain at the top.
There are two ways to enrol as cadets.
The Singapore Maritime Academy, which is part of Singapore Polytechnic, runs a three-year Diploma in Nautical Studies programme, which includes one year at sea.
Graduates qualify to sail as third officers, but those who start diploma studies before they enlist for national service need to complete NS before they can start working as third officers.
Besides the polytechnic, the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union (SMOU) also runs a Tripartite Nautical Training Award scheme.
The scheme, which was started in 2010, is backed by Workforce Singapore, the National Trades Union Congress and employers.
Trainee cadets under the scheme receive a monthly allowance of between $1,200 and $1,400 for the 31-month programme, which includes 18 months at sea. There is no bond.
About 300 Singaporeans are undergoing various stages of cadet training under the union-run scheme.
Eighteen graduates of the scheme are currently sailing as officers.
The path from cadet to captain can take only eight years but, typically, it takes more than 10 years to become a captain.
Toh Yong Chuan