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Employers, unions, and owners unite over seafarer challenges

Jake Lester Bodegas, via the ITF Seafarers’ Trust Photography Competition A seafarer with their arm over a collagues shoulders on deck
Collaboration between IMEC, ICS and ITF is helping to drive progress on key seafarer related issues, according to International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) Chairman Belal Ahmed.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News ahead of his appearance at CMA Shipping 2023 in March, Ahmed gave an overview of the challenges facing seafarers, the risks they pose to the industry, and the work being done to overcome those challenges.

Ahmed said that weekly meetings between himself, International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) General Secretary Stephen Cotton and International Chamber (ICS) of Shipping Secretary General Guy Platten were started during the pandemic to co-ordinate efforts in issues like seafarer vaccination and crew transfers. That co-operation has grown to encompass issues affecting seafarers including training, welfare, and helping the transition to new fuels.

“We have a very good interaction among us, shall we say, work very closely have trust each other, even though we represent quite different sides of the industry,” said Ahmed.

“I think the key here is there If these three organisations have never been together in tune, and now that we are, the three of us can get our organisation to direct our people to work together.”

Ahmed sees a rising threat to the maritime industry from the growing skill requirements for seafarers and demands placed upon them, coupled with ever-improving working conditions and offerings from shore-based roles.

“I believe seafarers, traditionally, historically, have been respected. But for the last two to three decades, they have not been. They have not been given the respect that they deserve,” said Ahmed, adding that working conditions have changed gradually over the years, but the total of those changes is dramatic.

“And now with the new technology, you need people who are more educated. And if you need those people, you need to match their expectation with regard to what they need in life,” said Ahmed.

Gone are the days when people would become seafarers to see the world and visit new countries as he did, said Ahmed, as the world is just a cheap flight away.

“How do you capture these people who can probably have a better job ashore? The challenge is that to get the good people, talented people, you have to train them, and we have to provide the right environment for them to stay on the ship. I think that that's the key and a radical mindset is needed,’ said Ahmed.

Ahmed will speak in his capacity as IMEC chairman at CMA Shipping in the US in March, taking part in the State of the Industry panel.

High on his agenda at the event will be a call for greater training provision for seafarers on new technologies, close to the regions and countries where seafarers live.

“A lot of big engine manufacturers have a lot of auxiliary, ancillary machineries that are becoming digital and high tech, but they are not training the people who need to run it every day,” said Ahmed.

“If I'm an engine manufacturer and I have built an engine, I have responsibility to make sure that the those who are going to drive the engine are trained. I need to make it easy for them to be trained.”

Current practise is for training to be given to the crew taking a ship out of the shipyard, but beyond that training provision is left to individual companies to arrange.

“Right now companies have to spend a lot of money to send crews to Denmark, or elsewhere in Europe, but the most of the crews are coming from the Philippines and from India and they don't have any training,” said Ahmed.

Bringing training centres for advanced shipboard technologies closer to crew sourcing locations will not just help with upskilling vital workers but will also bring great safety benefits as crews become more familiar with the technologies and software that ships rely on to operate.

“I remember stories in the 60s when the first radar came on ships, we used to have something called ‘radar aided collision’. If there was no radar, there'll be no collision. But because there was radar and a crew who could not use it properly, they ended up with a collision,” said Ahmed.

Ahmed has heard of a modern twist on the same situation where modern engine and equipment technologies lock certain actions for safety reasons, and crews are unable to remedy the situation due to a lack of proper training.

“When a new technology comes and makes claims for safer seas, it can be more dangerous if not properly executed,” said Ahmed.

Register now to attend CMA 2023 in Stamford, Connecticut.