No matter what shipping rules and regulations are formulated by regulatory bodies, safe operations still depend on officers and crew, an executive says.
The out-going president of the International Ship Managers' Association (Isma), Harry Gilbert, said it was therefore important that ship managers made the right choices when selecting seafarers and officers.
He told delegates attending a two-day Isma seminar on crew source and supply that he disagreed there was a manpower shortage in the shipping industry, but conceded there was a shortage of good officers and seafarers.
Mr Gilbert, also managing director of the Wallem Group of Companies, said the situation would get worse before it got better. Ship managers had to look for new sources of officers and seafarers.
India supplied good officers with good basic education and training and standards comparable with those in Eastern Europe, he said.
However, the cost-effective advantage of these Indian officers was diminishing as demand exceeded supply, forcing salaries up.
Their job specifications also had changed due to advancements in information technology and the fact fewer young Indians wanted to go to sea. This put pressure on the supply of good crew.
Many who went to sea left their jobs after a short stint, forcing the search for capable officers to restart.
Mr Gilbert said charterers were making unrealistic demands on ship managers by requiring that officers had experience of containers, reefers and engines.
Problems also arose when officers of different nationalities were trained to different standards.
Russia, also a source of officers and ratings, was not being considered because of the disarray in Eastern European countries.
The mainland had a surplus of seafarers who cost less than those of other nationalities, Mr Gilbert said.
Filipino seafarers were an important part of shipping and were in plentiful supply, but few reached senior ranks or served on hi-tech vessels.
Filipinos who reached senior ranks had been successful because they were properly trained by their employers. Mr Gilbert hoped there would be more training facilities in the Philippines in the future to help seafarers reach senior ranks.
International Shipping Federation secretary-general Chris Horrocks said that in the past, ships mainly were crewed by seafarers from their own country.
Today, most seafarers had no links to the country in which their ship was registered and managers were not of the same nationality as the crews.
Mr Horrocks said there were problems related to interpretation of the International Maritime Organisation's convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers (STCW).
These problems involved upgrading, ratings and training - issues which were now being sorted out.
While there had been more than 130 signatories to a 'white list' involving the STCW, only 83 countries had submitted their new procedures by the deadline.
Since then, another 12 countries also had made submissions, bringing the total to 95 countries.
The new president of Isma is Peter Cremers, executive chairman of Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.