15.05.2008 - Shipping faces shortage of 90,000 officers

Owners face a possible shortage of around 90,000 officers by 2012, according to a hard-hitting assessment of the manpower crisis.

Wages have already spiralled as owners struggle to recruit and retain seafarers, an earnings explosion that is set to continue. The poaching of personnel remains an issue, as does ensuring seafarers are fit for the task.

Drewry Shipping Consultants in conjunction with Precious Associates Ltd (PAL) has produced its Manning 2008 annual report in which it sounds various warnings including the risk of employees being promoted to jobs for which they are not competent.

The report says that already this year, the officer shortage may be as high as 34,000, a figure that could almost triple in the coming four years.

In the period 2008 to 2012, an extra 26,160 officers will be required for the dry-bulk fleet, 15,793 for containerships, 9,735 for chemical tankers and 8,088 for oil tankers.

"Ramping up training is very much on the agenda but can it catch up in time?" asked Drewry. "No crews mean no voyages, means no deliveries of raw materials, vital commodities and finished goods."

It added: "Supply chains could be severely disrupted and any business relying on JIT [just-in-time]type processes will have to rethink and re-engineer before production grinds to a halt."

China remains the leading source of officers (51,800) but it has never achieved its potential of being a major supplier to the European market. Most serve on Chinese-flag or operated vessels.

The Philippines (50,400) is a close second with a big push to promote ratings into officers, while Western European countries, after a period of decline, appear to be staging a recovery.

But with the supply/demand balance increasingly out of kilter because of surging newbuildings and negligible scrapping, new officer sources need to be tapped as a matter of urgency.

Eastern Europe is in the spotlight, although there is evidence that once a country joins the European Union (EU), fewer people are interested in serving at sea. Asia is also a prime focus.

Africa and South America may also contribute to solving the manning shortfall. Eyes are on Brazil but its burgeoning economy means competition from shoreside industries for quality personnel has raised the competition bar.

The Drewry report looks at many of the underlying issues including the need for vigilance in avoiding medically unfit seafarers being recruited or even pressed into service. Pre-employment medicals are now viewed by some as a cost-saving necessity.

In analysing the consequences of wage escalation over the past decade for selected countries, Drewry says there are signs that 2008 pay forecasts by PAL are already being breached.

This is against the backdrop of ratings under the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) collective agreement expecting 8% rises over the next two years. The shortage of skilled mariners means a further escalation in officer wage costs is an almost certainty, says Drewry (www.drewry. co.uk).

"All of which adds to vessel overheads already under pressure from rising bunker, insurance and repair costs," it added.

Geoff Garfield, Tradewinds

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