OSM - Lloyd's List: Attract & Retain Maritime Personnel

Shortage comes amid changes in ownership structure and increasing complexity of ships, says OSM Maritime.

The global maritime industry is grappling with a shortfall in seafarers with the right skill sets to adequately crew modern-day vessels.

This issue is mainly a result of the changing nature of the industry, said OSM Maritime Group business development director Shubpreet Singh at the the Singapore Command Seminar 2017, held by The Nautical Institute.

Mr Singh noted that these days it was not the shortage of personnel to crew vessels that was the issue, but the shortage of personnel qualified enough to do so.

"There are plenty of people out there," he said, adding that the human element remained a key concern in the industry as roughly 50% of operating expenses went to crewing.

However, the increasing complexity of modern-day vessels, increased outsourcing, rapid globalisation and more stringent regulations pertaining to seafarers' rights and safety regulations — as well as the growing trend of non-traditional owners such as private equity entering the industry and adding to cost pressures — has made the recruitment of qualified personnel all the more complicated.

As such, the industry is faced with a series of challenges, such as a significant increase in the number of terms and conditions requested by seafarers before they sign on the dotted line.

These do not merely relate to high salaries, but also to requests on seafarers' working preferences and safety concerns, especially in the case of high-cost nationals such as those in the western maritime nations, said Mr Singh.

OSM has taken several steps to attract and retain maritime personnel, such as providing and maintaining high employment standards; ensuring it has a strong reputation in the industry; providing insurance coverage for seafarers on and offshore, as well as for their families; defined career progression plans through long-term training; and cadet programmes.

Mr Singh's views on having qualified personnel to crew vessels are a legitimate industry concern, with the UK Chamber of Shipping in December last year calling for a twofold increase in government spending to train seafarers.

Along with the Merchant Navy Training Board and seafarer trade union Nautilus International, the association presented a business case to the Department for Transport to increase funding for training seafarers to £30m ($37.2m), as existing government Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) stood at £15m and only covered close to one third of training costs today, with shipowners footing the rest of the bill.

In January, a trade union representing seafarers also asked the government to take action to help reverse the downtrend in UK seafarers seen over 2016.

The RMT union noted that figures from the Department for Transport's annual Seafarers Statistics showed a 1% net increase of 50 in overall UK ratings, but the number, however, masked a decline of 8% in deck personnel and 15% in engine personnel over the year.