Mumbai: India’s shipping industry has been spared the layoffs that marked the global economic downturn, largely on account of an acute shortage of skilled seafarers, according to officials of state-run and private shipping firms.
The global economic downturn has lowered demand for ships as world trade declined, caused freight rates to plunge and led to a rationalization of shipping capacity worldwide.
But salaries at senior positions in the industry have increased. For instance, the average salary for a tanker ship master or chief engineer is around $12,000 (Rs5.8 lakh) a month, up from $10,000 six months to a year earlier.
Tempted by this, a number of senior officers, who typically opt for onshore jobs after long years at sea, are now reapplying for seafaring positions.
According to officials of public and private shipping firms, a chief officer—who ranks just below the master and chief engineer—makes around $9,000 a month compared with $7,000 earlier. The second officer, who reports to the chief officer, draws an average salary of $5,000 a month, up from $4,000.
Ranks below second officers now draw an average salary of $3,500 a month, compared with $3,000 earlier.
“Though there was (a) global economic slowdown, the domestic ship movement was largely unaffected,” said S.S. Kulkarni, chief executive officer of the Indian National Shipowners’ Association, or Insa, a lobbying body. “Shipping companies could absorb the bad phase since they were reaping benefits before the slowdown crept in.”
A senior executive with a Mumbai-based private shipping company said the domestic industry faces a shortage of at least 1,000 officers; the global shortage of officers is about 10 times that. He didn’t want to be named.
“It is true that the salaries of officers of ships have not come down or there were no retrenchments because there is huge shortage of manpower in the industry,” said Kailash Gupta, director (personnel and administration) of state-run Shipping Corp. of India Ltd, which employs at least 4,000 sailors to operate its 90-odd vessels. “We are hiring more and training more seafarers. Though there are more vessels laid up worldwide, you need to have a certain amount of manpower to take care of safety requirements of idle ships.”
“The danger is that when the slowdown started pinching the shipping companies, they stopped training of cadets. This will further add to the shortage of officers,” the executive quoted earlier said.
For now, senior officers of the ranks of master and chief officer are coming back from onshore jobs to plug the gap.
“Nowadays, you are getting several applications to renew the certificates from former captains as they wanted to re-enter sailing. Shipping companies are more than willing to absorb them due to shortage while these captains are finding sea jobs are more lucrative as the land is witnessing (its) worst time, similar to the Great Depression,” said a government official with the Directorate General of Shipping, the regulator for the industry.
The good times may be short lived. An executive at another Mumbai-based private shipping company said the salaries of mid-level officers are stabilizing as the slowdown hits shipping companies, and employees are no longer asking for astronomical increases. He did not want to be identified.
“We don’t want to kill the goose that is laying golden eggs. Therefore, we are not in the business of asking for more hikes as we understand the current economic crisis,” said Abdulgani Y. Serang, general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, which has about 50,000 members.
However, he said the unions are meeting representatives of foreign shipping firms for revising the wage agreements from January and Indian shipping firms in April. “We will be demanding (a) fair increase considering all the dynamics of (the) economy,” he added.