Making a dent into seafarers market

Faced with the problems of lack of on-board training slots, India’s maritime administration has taken several steps to address the issues related to unemployment


Though the Indian government is trying to make errant institutes fall in line, there is a disconnect between training institutes and shipping firms where cadets can get on-board  training. Photo: Bloomberg
Though the Indian government is trying to make errant institutes fall in line, there is a disconnect between training institutes and shipping firms where cadets can get on-board training. Photo: Bloomberg

The Manpower Report published by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) on 16 May, forecasts a serious shortage in the supply of seafarers globally. The report identifies a current shortfall of about 16,500 officers and the need for an additional 147,500 by 2025 to service the world’s merchant fleet.

The global supply of officers is forecast to increase steadily, but this is predicted to be outpaced by demand. BIMCO is the world’s largest private shipping organization with 2,200 members in around 130 countries.

ICS is the international trade association for shipowners and operators whose members operate over 80% of the world’s merchant fleet by capacity. Some officer categories are in especially short supply, including engineer officers at the management level and officers needed for specialized ships such as chemical, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carriers.

The report suggests that in the past five years, the industry has made good progress with increasing recruitment and training levels and reducing officer wastage (retaining qualified seafarers and increasing the number of years they serve at sea). But the report indicates that unless training levels are increased significantly, the growth in demand for seafarers could generate a serious shortage in the total supply of officers. The report, however, estimates there is a current surplus of about 119,000 ratings (general purpose staff on board ships) with demand only having increased by about 1% since 2010. Significantly, China is thought to have overtaken the Philippines as the largest single source of seafarers qualified for global trade (although the Philippines is still the largest source of ratings). However, data from global shipping firms suggests that the extent to which Chinese seafarers are available for global service may be more limited, with the Philippines and Russia seen as equally important sources of officers, followed closely by Ukraine and India. The report is a wake-up call for redoubling efforts in promoting shipping as an attractive career option for young people.

Attracting new blood into the industry is vital and properly structured training programmes to ensure competent cadets can advance quickly through the ranks will help make a career at sea an attractive option for young people. “There is no avoiding the fact that the global fleet is increasing and more manpower is needed. However, we are demanding more from current seafarers rather than recruiting even more cadets into the market. And these cadets need training berths on our ships if they are to fulfil their true potential,” said Kuba Szymanski, secretary general of InterManager, the global trade lobby for ship management firms.

This is nowhere more relevant than in India, which has prided itself on being a supplier of quality manpower to the global shipping industry. The statistics speak for themselves.

It is estimated that around 4,700 cadets/students, who have passed out of some 133 recognized maritime training institutes, are not employed as they have not been able to complete the mandatory on-board ship training to become eligible to work on ships, according to India’s shipping ministry. India is aiming to increase the supply of seafarers to 9% of the global workforce by 2020 from the existing 7.6%.

This requires on-board-trained, ready-to-employ Indian seafarers. But a severe lack of training slots on ships has proved to be a stumbling block.

The backlog of cadets waiting for on-board training runs into thousands, making their education incomplete, choking the supply line and putting almost trained young Indians in the unemployed list. This has brought about huge social and economic upheaval in several families across the country.

While India has built sufficient capacity to train seafarers in shore-based institutions in the past decade, it has not been able to secure training berths on ships for the cadets/ratings graduating from maritime institutes. Remedial steps are particularly important at this juncture in the light of the social issues that this has brought about on the one side and the ongoing global economic conditions on the other.

Faced with the problems of lack of on-board training slots, India’s maritime administration has taken several steps to address the issues related to unemployment.

It has started regulating the intake of candidates into the training institutes by making it mandatory that only those who are sponsored by shipping firms will be admitted. Approvals to new training institutes have been frozen since 2012. The training institutes currently have a capacity to admit about 10,000 students a year. Providing on-board ship training and submitting placement records online have been made mandatory for these institutes.

India will shortly introduce a new so-called comprehensive inspection programme (CIP) guideline for training institutes which will give 50% weightage to their placement record. Though India is trying to make errant institutes fall in line, there is a disconnect between training institutes and shipping firms where cadets can get on-board training.

This linkage has to be developed. As the government cannot force private entities, this linkage is being induced through the revised CIP grading that gives greater weightage to placement. This will ensure candidates wishing to enter the sector can access the website of the directorate general of shipping and have a better idea of institutes that have a better placement record so that his interests are safeguarded.

P. Manoj looks at trends in the shipping industry.

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