Marine Crew Shortages, Causes and Solutions
Recent Covid-19 outbreaks and the sanctions against Russia are causing crew shortages and pushing wages up. Outbreaks in the Far East have prevented Chinese seafarers from boarding ships while Russian crews are unable to join ships due to travel limitations and visa restrictions. This has resulted in reduced availability on a global scale and a serious manning and recruitment crisis. Wage increases can be seen across all ship types and ranks and for some ranks, remuneration increases are quite steep.
Causes for Crew Shortages
In addition to new Covid-19 outbreaks and the sanctions against Russia, favorable charter markets across different ship categories have made carriers look for additional crews, offering generous wages to attract mariners. Currently, crews willing to join ships have plenty of offers to chose from.
Also, there is a high demand for crews because carriers are facing a market boom. The fact is, however, that the tense geopolitical situation has negatively impacted crew morale. Experts have voiced concerns that mariner shortages will grow even further.
Third, there has been a decrease in mariners looking to join ships, some of whom having been stranded onboard for 12 to 18 months due to Covid-19-relared restrictions on movement. Crews have been struggling with declining physical and mental health as well as interpersonal tensions and increasing fatigue.
Fourth, given that Russia and Ukraine make for about 15 percent of the global officer workforce, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has had a negative impact on crew capacity. So far, Ukrainian mariners have been willing to remain onboard beyond contract expiry but they cannot stay forever.
What Can Be Done
Slow crew population growth should be dealt at all stages of recruitment and crewing, including a holistic approach to seafarer safety and welfare, accelerated accreditation for senior-level positions, and improved training for junior-level crews.
Globally, crew shortages will be felt more in countries with better onshore employment prospects. In some countries such as Taiwan, for example, carriers can only hire domestic crews, further reducing the pool of available seafarers. Such restrictions need to be lifted so that international freight forwarders can hire crews from Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where competitive job opportunities are fewer. Yet, relying on crews from less-economically developed nations also poses some problems such as strict immigration requirements.
Digitalizing onboard processes can be the key to making crewing more attractive to seafarers. Ultimately, managers will have more time to devote to supporting crew welfare, safety, and competence. The shipping industry has started to digitize processes in various departments, mainly related to route planning, cargo handling, warehousing logistics, safety, and environmental impact. Manning, however, has so far been overlooked, especially when it comes to recruitment. Digital sourcing of mariners can significantly improve crewing. Yet, this is not just about posting digital ads or job openings but making sure application channels are easy to access, transparent, and crew-centered, offering the right value proposition to mariners.