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Warning of officer shortage, but who will want to be a seafarer in future?

Photo: Marcus Hand seafarers.jpg
The latest Bimco and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Seafarer Workforce report warns of a potential serious shortage of officers. This is not the first time that the two organisations have made such a warning over the years but given the life seafarers have endured over the last 18 months would seem to have a real possibility of transpiring in the years to come.

The report predicts that 89,510 additional officers by 2026, and also highlights a current shortfall of 26,240 STCW certified officers, indicating that demand for seafarers in 2021 has outpaced supply.

None of this is really that new, Bimco and ICS have issued similar such warning periodically for well over a decade and at no point have we seen ships dropping anchor en masse due to a lack of crew. But we did not also have the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the frontline workers in the shape of seafarers who have get the global economy going being treated like pariahs rather than heroes.

Seatrade Maritime News recently highlighted the 54% drop in deployment of seafarers in 2020 from leading crewing provider – the Philippines as pandemic related travel bans and restrictions made both returning home and joining vessels a logistical nightmare for seafarers and their employers.

But it’s not just the existing seafarers joining ships where numbers are sharply down but also those taking examinations ashore. For marine officers’ technical examinations in the Philippines the number passing in 2020 was 1,664, by contrast in 2019 it was 5,221. Now this may well be because schools were closed due to Covid-19 but it also points to a potential problem in the future

It is a serious question as to who is going to want to take up a career that has proven to potentially leave you stranded at sea for 18 months, having to quarantine just to go to and from your chosen place of work, and potentially held overseas should the worst happen and the vessel you are on be involved in a casualty.

Anyone thinking of a career in seafaring can read the reports of the crew change crisis, which has unusually for shipping even made the made mainstream media. A visit to social media groups on seafaring will find you scrolling through many posts about quarantine and being stuck in hotels, and the relief of crew change finally taking place after 12 months or longer.

Add to that criminalisation – the crew of the Wakashio have now been held in Mauritius for over a year – without charge. And not to mention the heartrending stories of seafarer abandonment.

It does not add up to an appealing career option. If something does not change the warnings of officer shortages may prove to be much more a reality in future than they have in the past.