Global crew shortage looms as cost cuts drain resources

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2002, 12:00am

A global shortage of qualified seafarers may compound the industry's difficulties as it deals with an increasingly strict regulatory environment.

The crew shortage was partly due to cost being an 'overriding theme in today's market', said Alastair Evitt, Asia managing director of V Ships, a Norwegian ship management company, with fewer resources being allocated by ship owners to training and manpower concerns.

Mr Evitt said ship owners in Asia were anxious to secure competent crews to serve on their vessels, but were held back by the cost of training and personnel development.

Mr Evitt said the global shortage was cause for concern, given the advent of tougher safety regimes.

'The increasingly strict regulatory environment, including the impact of the International Safety Management Code phase-two provision for all vessels, means that experienced and fully trained officers and ratings are more crucial than ever to the process of compliance if problems are to be avoided,' Mr Evitt said.

'Maintaining this crew supply commitment means employing an active recruitment policy to take advantage of all the appropriate sources of seafarers worldwide.'

The latest manpower update by the International Shipping Federation and the Baltic and International Maritime Council (Bimco) found that there was a 4 per cent deficit in the availability of officers in 2000 against actual manpower supply.

By 2010, that gap was expected to widen to 12 per cent, it said.

'The clear message is that the current moderate shortfall for officers will worsen unless training is increased or measures are taken to address the rate at which seafarers leave the industry,' the Bimco study said.

The average age of officers from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including North America, Europe and Japan, was increasing. More than 40 per cent of officers are over 50 years old. Just over 15 per cent of all seafaring officers were above 50 years old a decade ago.

The percentage of officers under 31 years of age is less then 15 per cent, down from 19 per cent a decade ago.

The biggest manpower change in the industry has been the shift from reliance on OECD-sourced officers to that of Asians.

The Bimco study found that the percentage of seafarers from OECD countries fell from 31.5 per cent in 1995 to 27.5 per cent in 2000.

V Ships said that the traditional source for Asian crews was still primarily the Philippines and India, although other Asian countries, in particular China, have begun providing more recruits.

About three quarters of all officers sourced from less-developed Far East countries were under 40 years of age, with a third of those being under 31.

Bimco said that demand for officers had fallen given the 1 per cent annual growth in the world fleet for the five years between 1995 to 2000.

'There is some evidence that recruitment levels increased from the late 1990s, although they fell again slightly in 1999, coinciding with the difficult year for shipping that followed the Asian economic crisis.

'But any overall increase in training broadly seems to have been matched by an increase in the rate at which officers have left the industry,' the study said.

Graphic: stru12gwz