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Growing seafarer shortage highlighted at Sea Japan

Tokyo: The urgency of the manpower shortage confronting the shipping industry was addressed at the Sea Japan conference this week by Andreas J. Droussiotis, ceo of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) and immediate past president of the Cyprus Shipping Council.

Droussiotis began his speech by outlining how the shipping industry itself had been largely responsible for the shortage, increasingly switching away from employing Europeans in all but the most senior shipboard posts towards Asians and East Europeans for cost reasons. This, together with other factors such as changing socioeconomic aspirations, increased onboard workload and the negative image of shipping, had served to discourage seafarers "other than from countries where the attraction is strictly financial," he said.

But now those countries able to provide good labour supply have basically been "exhausted," Droussiotis said, with the problem compounded by the increasing number, size and complexity of new vessels joining the world fleet. The tight labour market also means companies are under pressure to rapidly promote sea staff or risk losing them to competitors, thereby putting safety at risk, he opined.

Many ship managers have avoided the worst of the problem by investing in their own training schemes, he continued. "As a group ourselves, in the ex Hanseatic and Eurasia regimes (both now part of BSM), we concentrated on training from the very beginning," and that investment will be expanded under the new BSM group concept, he pledged.

But for the industry as a whole there is no magical solution, save the sheer hard slog of trying to slowly turn around shipping's negative image and "the continuous training and upgrading of our own people."

Bearing the cost of training should be a matter for "all involved in the industry," Droussiotis concluded. "The owners, the managers, the charterers, the underwriters... all have a vested interest in shipping Unless we do it we will have in the future to cope with a more severe problem. The matter will not any more be one of cost - it will be a standstill."  

BSM, which officially came into being on January 1, manages over 600 vessels and employs more than 17,000 staff ashore or onboard ship. For further details see www.bs-shipmanagement.com .  [09/04/08] 

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