The shortage of ship officers is worsening, says Drewry Ship’s crew

The serious shortage of ships’ officers in the global shipping industry is at its worst on record and is showing signs of abating, according to Drewry’s latest Manning Annual Review and Forecast report released this week.

The report highlights that the gap in civil servant availability will widen in 2023, reaching a deficit of about 9% of the global civil servant pool. This represents a significant increase from the 5% deficit a year ago and represents the highest level recorded in the 17 years since Drewry began analyzing the seafaring market.

Projections based on the limited availability of new seafarers suggest that a similar deficit level will persist from 2023 to 2028. While these forecasts are based on vessel numbers and manning assumptions, they serve as a clear indicator of the increasingly tight labor market for seafarers. The impact is significant, impacting recruitment and retention efforts as well as staff costs.

COVID-19

The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to impact the industry. Crew training has been severely hampered and work at sea has become less attractive. Stories of crews having to spend long periods aboard ships, often in appalling conditions, have contributed to the industry’s downfall.

As a result, the focus on seafarers’ welfare has gained prominence as a key driver of staff retention beyond wage rates. Elements such as effective communication channels with families back home, comfortable shipboard facilities and a supportive work environment have become increasingly important in attracting and retaining seafarers.

war in Ukraine

The challenges facing seafarers’ supply chain were exacerbated by the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Many experienced crews returned home to join the military, compounding the shortage of available seamen. Unfortunately, there is currently no end in sight to the ongoing conflict, so the number of new seafarers from Russia and Ukraine will remain severely limited for the foreseeable future.

While manning ships will prove to be a significant challenge in the coming years, particularly in terms of officer availability, the situation is being exacerbated by the rapid growth of the global deepwater vessel fleet.

“Employers are looking to alternative sources of supply to fill the shortage and wages are showing increased volatility,” said Rhett Harris, director of Manning Research at Drewry. “Sectors such as container ships and offshore support vessels have already seen rising wage rates due to the strength of these sectors. We assume that labor costs will also increase for other ship types.”

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