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Shortage of Seafarers Onboard Merchant Vessels by 2026

The 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report released by the International Chamber of Shipping and the Baltic and International Maritime Council on Wednesday warns about a possible shortage of sailors to staff commercial vessels over a five years period. Steps should be taken to increase numbers and ensure the smooth movement of cargo across the globe. The proposed measures are increased recruitment and training to boost the supply of maritime crew by 2026.

The Crisis Is Looming

At present, demand for maritime crew is estimated at about 1.45 million, including some 790,500 officers. There is a supply shortage of about 16,500 officers while the surplus is estimated at about 119,000 ratings.


According to the new report, international freight forwarders face a shortage of crew due to the global pandemic, and the situation is expected to worsen over the next couple of years. Industry experts point to the fact that there is already a shortage of over 26,000 crew, and demand this year exceeds supply. While the supply of crew has increased by 10.8 percent between 2015 and 2021, the demand for officers has also increased, with about 1.4 crew needed per berth. There is also a significant shortage for some categories of crew such as management level deck officers in the offshore and tanker sectors and senior officers with technical experience. The demand for chief officers and 2nd engineers is also high, and it takes longer to fill positions onboard. Shortages are significant on chemical and crude tankers.

On the good side, over the last 5 years, the shipping sector has managed to reduce crew turnover from 8 to 6 percent. This has been made possible by increasing the years of crew serving onboard and retaining experienced sailors.


The 2021 report offers international freight forwarding businesses valuable information regarding crew supply and demand, including demographic composition and country specific-data. It shows that there will be a shortfall of 89,510 officers over the next few years to staff merchant ships. At present, global trade relies on around 1.89 million sailors serving over 74,000 ships.

The report also discusses diversity in terms of gender, nationality, age, and other demographics. The trend is toward closing the gender gap, with a little over 24,000 women crew currently serving onboard vessels. There is a 45.8 percent increase of female seafarers compared with 2015. It has been projected that the percentage of female STCW certified sailors is going to increase, especially in the passenger ferry and cruise ship sectors.

The Way Forward    

To meet global demand for sailors, it is essential that the shipping industry promotes maritime training and education as well as careers at sea. The focus should be on a digitally connected and greener shipping industry, and the multiple skills required will help achieve this goal. This can help global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, with measures aimed at monitoring trends in crew retention to keep pace with growing demand.