Crew shortage threatens shipping industry
And the industry is set to face further manpower shortages if measures are not taken to produce well-trained and experienced staff. Analysts and industry sources say the problem is growing faster than anticipated in the region and could have dire consequences.
"There is a chronic global shortage of skills and this is threatening the future of the shipping industry in the region," Ramesh Ramakrishnan, Chairman of Transworld Group, told Emirates Business. "Every entity within the maritime industry is battling to attract skills but the response has not been good," he said.
The global industry faces a possible shortage of up to 30,000 officers by 2015, according to estimates.
The global tanker industry alone is facing a shortage of about 10,000 officers as fleets grow over the next four to five years.
The worldwide number of seafarers is estimated at about 1.2 million currently, with a large number coming from Asia.
The crew shortage is apparent in relation to the number of ships currently on order, totalling 9,000 vessels, with deliveries averaging 2,500 ships annually over the next three years.
Sharafuddin Sharaf, Chairman of UAE Shipowners' Association, said: "The number of new builds is increasing at a fast rate. Given the current rate of growth of the shipping industry, there is no easy solution for the crew crisis, which will affect the industry in the next couple of years. It takes eight or nine years to produce a well-trained captain while a new ship can be designed and delivered in less than two years."
The crew shortage is also being attributed to the poaching of experienced officers by the booming liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipping sector, which can afford to pay huge salaries.
According to industry observers, experienced crew are leaving oil and chemical tankers for the LNG business because the money on offer is almost double to what is offered on conventional tankers.
Andrew Terry, a Kuwait-based shipping consultant, said: "The LNG sector is drawing crew from the tanker industry and the tanker industry is in turn drawing people from the dry bulk sector."
The recruitment crisis is particularly acute in the Middle East where the highly educated workforce regards careers on land as preferable both in terms of quality of life and potential earnings.
"Many young graduates in the region would not consider it lucrative to pursue a career at sea compared to several other opportunities available to them," he said.
A UAE shipping operator official said the company had received no applications for jobs from UAE nationals despite aggressive advertising to attract talent. In addition, recruitment had been slow because the shipping industry in the region had a negative image.
Terry said: "It was attractive to work in the shipping industry a long time ago because you could see the world, but there are more advantages to have a land-based job these days.
"There are few incentives for shipping now and when an accident happens at sea the crew can face criminal charges."
Industry officials argue that many highly skilled marine personnel have reached, or are about to reach, retirement age, resulting in an increasing dependence on expensive expatriate labour.
A senior official at a regional ship brokerage company told Emirates Business that the problem of crew shortage had been looming for the last 15 years and everyone in the sector had seen it coming but had done nothing about it.
"The local shipping industry has put little into training, concerned bodies have done little to promote maritime training and now there are no replacements for those skilled people who are retiring or staff for new builds," he said.
The manpower problem has resulted in crew members working long shifts and taking less holiday leave.
Willem de Ruiter, Executive Director of the European Marine Safety Agency, said at a recent conference that the shortage of crew coupled with the rapid promotion of unsuitable officers was having safety repercussions, too.
"It is up to the shipping industry to do more and to change its thinking on the issue," he said.
"The crew shortage is having repercussions on the safety side as well – it is happening already. The crew shortage issue will be top of the agenda in years to come. The industry could do more," Ruiter said.
Intertanko – an international association of independent tanker owners – recently decided to adopt an onboard training programme in order to help alleviate the shortage.