Overcoming the crew shortage conundrum

June 14, 2016 2:10 pm

By Nigel Cleave, CEO of Videotel

If there is one issue which seems to dominate strategic thinking in the boardrooms of the good and great in world shipowning and shipmanagement, it is the concern that there may just not be enough well trained and competent seafarers to man today’s ships and offices ashore.

The world fleet continues to grow and world trade continues to plough ahead at a few percentage points slower, but nevertheless, highly trained, motivated, and competent crew are a must for a global industry that has to look ahead.

With that in mind, the recent publication of the BIMCO/ICS Manpower Report made very interesting reading. Yes, the shortage of trained officers today stands in the report’s words at a ‘manageable’ 16,500, but more worrying perhaps is the projection that this could grow to 147,500 within the next 10 years. The report’s findings did not stop there: It also talked about more officers choosing to spend only 10 years at sea and China replacing the Philippines as the main supplier of seafarers. These are worrying claims when you consider that it takes seven to eight years to train a Master or Chief Engineer and that roughly half of the Chinese seafarers will end up on domestic vessels.

Some parallels can be drawn between the concerns raised by the BIMCO/ICS Manpower Report and the issues raised by the recent publication of the Allianz Safety and Shipping Review.

The report outlines a general reduction in investment by many shipping companies in key areas such as training, vessel maintenance, and crewing conditions in an effort to reduce costs due to the downturn in global trade.

However, it is vital that these short terms savings do not impact on passenger and crew safety, the report says, and I can only but agree with the view expressed in the report that economic pressures should not allow a “put it off until later” safety mentality to develop.

The report pinpoints that training remains below par in some areas, especially with regards to electronic navigational aids, making Videotel’s recent ground-breaking agreement with online maritime training business Safebridge GmbH, which specializes in ECDIS training, very timely.

While e-navigational aids should make life easier for the seafarer, the weak link in the chain is the human element so giving crew type-specific training on the actual equipment they will be using is vital.

The report also raises significant concerns for passenger safety particularly on some Asian routes as evidenced by recent ferry losses in this region. It is clear that many operators are way behind recognized international standards.

According to Allianz, cyber security is another growing area of concern for the maritime industry and the need for ship operators to employ the same best practices onboard as they do onshore is vital. It is estimated that the insurance market has less than five years to prepare itself for the risk of a cyber-attack at sea so immediate action is required.

With regards to cyber security, KVH hosted a roundtable event during the CMA Shipping 2016 conference. Videotel is currently collaborating with BIMCO and ExxonMobil on a maritime training program about safe cyber practices for seafarers using the recent guidelines produced by BIMCO, ICS, and Intertanko as a point of reference.

The report also highlights that the tough economic climate is leading some shipowners to extend the intervals between maintenance checks yet machinery damage is currently the highest cause of shipping incidents, running at a level of 36%.

The report concludes that the declining experience of onshore technical staff due to the rapid onboard technology changes means there needs to be some kind of mechanism to keep onshore staff up to speed with new equipment onboard so they can make better informed decisions.

So the takeaway from all of this has to be that shipping needs to regard training of its seafarers as crucial an undertaking as bunkering the ship. These are expensive and dangerous assets we are placing in the hands of our officers and crew. Now is not the time to cut corners.