Seafarer shortage

Cash ‘not answer to crewing crisis’
23 March 2007 Lloyds List

PAYING “top dollar” seafarer salaries does not guarantee loyalty and is not the answer to the industry’s crewing crisis, according to a panel of experts, writes Rajesh Joshi.

The way to redress the problem is to foster lifelong “contracts” with seafarer recruits that build on career development, the panel at the Connecticut Maritime Association conference concluded.

Bob Bishop, chief executive of V.Ships Shipmanagement, told the Manning Strategies panel that the intractable challenges of attracting and retaining crews needed a radically creative approach that recognised the importance of email and communication links with mariners’ families.

The days of putting out to sea with no contact with the outside world for weeks or months on end were over, Mr Bishop said.

Today’s new generation expected to be “connected” with its family and friends every day, and this reality needed to be addressed.

Mr Bishop cited many reasons why the “romanticism” of going to sea had faded.

These included higher regulation, visa issues, criminalisation, cultural issues involving multinational crews and higher retirement levels, enveloped in the bigger challenge posed by more lucrative land-based employment opportunities.

Simply paying more in seafarer salaries was not the answer, he stressed. Instead, V.Ships sought to address reality by offering recruits a guarantee of a lifelong job if they so desired, wrapped into a clearly defined career development path.

The assurance of emails and internet use was an integral component of the company’s approach.

V.Ships had a goal of increasing its world-leading pool of 23,500 seafarers to 60,000 by 2010, Mr Bishop declared.

To this end, the company was placing greater emphasis on having cadets on board its managed ships, a number expected to rise from the present 765 to 1,500-2,000.

He identified the US and Canada as crew supply markets “worth revisiting” as the wage gap with the developing world narrowed.

In a strictly US con text, Overseas Shipholding Group’s vice-president for marine labour relations, Norm Gauslow, echoed the substance of Mr Bishop’s comments.

OSG’s 16 product tanker newbuilding programme in Philadelphia and six articulated tug barge newbuilding programme in Alabama had thrown up the need for 1,000 new seafarers ranging from entry-level unlicensed crew to middle and senior-level officers, Mr Gauslow said.

OSG was prepared for this challenge with a recruitment strategy that would promise entrants more than just the cash.

The company’s focus would be on defining clear career paths for seafarers, he said. a related story...

Classification society’s study says downward trend of recent years “is about to turn”, writes Rajesh Joshi in Connecticut, 22 March 2007 Lloyds List

GROWING incompetence among crews, possibly brought on by new recruits, poor retention and overworked seafarers, could be the reason behind an increase in the frequency of serious maritime accidents since the start of the new century, Det norske Veritas has said.

Data released by the Norwegian classification society at the Connecticut Maritime Association conference purports to show that while accident figures today are half of what they were in the late 1980s, “the trend is about to turn”.

This reversal has been clearly felt and seen since the start of the present decade, according to DNV data.

Tor Svensen, chief operating officer of DNV Maritime, told Lloyd’s List that this unwelcome reversal of the trend could plausibly be attributed to a “loss of competence” among crews, linked with stress and fatigue but not necessarily attributable to fewer crew members per ship.

The link with reduced competence was only a theory, Mr Svensen stressed.

Nevertheless, figures compiled by DNV on navigational accident frequency for large containerships, ro-ros and crude as well as chemical tankers that date back to 1987 show a downward trend until 2001, followed by an increase from that point on.

Even the tanker segment, with its vaunted focus on safety, has reported more accidents than five years ago, DNV’s study notes.

The society says collisions, standing and contact damage are areas of high concern and the figures belie higher technical and transparency standards in the industry today.

Dr Espen Cramer, head of DNV Maritime Solutions, said in a statement: “In sum, the general level of experience on board vessels has been reduced. There are more new recruits, less retention and faster promotion.

“In addition, onboard workloads with respect to paperwork and inspections have increased while crew size is stable. Loss of experience is a stress factor for those... who have to continuously train newer crew members.”

Although shipping is going through relatively healthy economic times, it has to contend with increased demand for seafarers and loss of manpower to other industries, DNV’s study notes. Dr Cramer suggests “more focus on crew on board and management onshore” as a way to reduce accidents.

“The crew has to be more involved in safety and management has to demonstrate more commitment to safety,” he advises.

“In that respect, shipping still has more to learn from industries such as offshore and aviation.”