The Marine Engineering and Research Institute in Calcutta, inaugurated in 1953 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was initially called the Directorate of Marine Engineering Training before being renamed Meri in 1994.
It was the country’s only marine engineering institute till the ’80s and broke new ground in nautical engineering training in Southeast Asia.
It started its journey with just 60 students but now produces about 300 marine engineers every year. On November 14, 2008, Indian Maritime University, a central university, took Meri and three other similar institutes in Mumbai under its wing.
Meri offers a four-year BTech in marine engineering. In the first two years, basic and applied level thermodynamics, electrical engineering and workshop technologies are taught alongside the structure and construction of a ship as well as those of the marine heat engine and air conditioning system.
In the third year, computer science, steam engineering, fluid mechanics, naval architecture, marine electrical technology and marine ancillary mechanics is taught.
After the seventh semester, students intern onboard a ship for about six months. Shipping companies such as Mitsui OSK, Anglo Eastern, Suzy Bernard and Synergy visit the campus to select trainees who are paid a stipend of Rs 25,000 per month on an average.
After the eighth and final semester, students join ships as fourth engineers on salaries in the neighbourhood of $1,500 (around Rs 82,000). After an appropriate period of work, fourth engineers can clear the third and then the second class exams to become a second engineer, earning between $3500 (around Rs 1,92,000) and $5000 (around Rs 2,74,000) per month.
After completing the management level, a second engineer becomes the chief engineer of a ship and earns around $7,000 (around Rs 3,84,000) per month to as much as $15,000 (around Rs 8,24,000) per month.
There are some 70 teachers at Meri but only 20 of them are regular faculty members. The rest are visiting professors, cherry-picked from the industry as well as eminent engineering colleges.
Meri also offers a one-year diploma course in nautical science, where students spend the first two semesters in college, the next three on board and the sixth and final one again in college. After clearing the certificate of competency exam, they are posted as nautical officers on board.
Students here lead a rigorous life so that they can later adjust to the spartan life onboard. “We wake up early in the morning and go to sleep early at night. The time is divided among exercises, classes, swimming and sports,” says Shagnik Bhattacharya, a third year student.
His classmate Supantho Biswas says the theory and practical classes at the institute are very good as there are excellent teachers who provide hands-on training on the workings of a ship.
The course fee of Rs 9 lakh is to be paid in eight instalments. The institution arranges for loans and provides around 40 scholarships for students.
The expansive campus also houses hostels, a swimming pool, an open arena, a gymnasium and a number of workshops with colossal nautical simulators, including a marine propulsion engine of 6,000 brake horse power.
Students who have cleared the IIT-JEE exam and are not older than 20 on October 1 of the year of application are eligible for counselling, held generally in the last week of July or first week of August.
The Meri alumni are well established in shipping as well as allied spheres such as administrative services, management and entrepreneurship.
But sailing, despite all its thrills, loses its attraction after some years, says M.K Ghosh, a former first class motor engineer and the current director of MERI. “You can have your spouse with you aboard once you become a fourth engineer but eight months in a row amid the ocean brings ennui. That’s when you return ashore where umpteen lucrative jobs are waiting,” he says.
B.N. Bera, a 1962 alumnus, joined the Shipping Corporation of India as a tyro. He chose land over sea in 1978 and joined Meri as the director, retiring in 1997. “Meri is internationally acclaimed and leading shipping companies have developed a liking for this institution over the years. The slump in the early ’80s or in late 2008 made no difference to the placement of students” says Bera.
WHAT IS IT? A unit of Indian Maritime University that offers a four-year B Tech in marine engineering and a one-year diploma in nautical science
WHO’S THE BOSS? M.K. Ghosh is the director
Where is it? P-19, Taratolla Road
Good placement, experienced faculty members
Hostel rooms are in a state of disrepair