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01 Feb 2023
5 mins
Future-ready Seafarers Needed to Support A Decarbonised Shipping Industry

Attracting and retaining seafarers poses a significant challenge to ensuring that there are sufficient competent seafarers to support the shipping industry’s green transition.

In an initial study commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force Secretariat to explore how best to support the maritime workforce in making the shift to a decarbonized shipping industry, a DNV study revealed that as many as 800,000 seafarers will require additional training by the mid-2030s to achieve shipping’s decarbonization goals.

The DNV report outlined that in the ‘Zero Carbon by 2050 scenario’, modelled by Lloyds Register and University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS), 450,000 seafarers would require some additional training by 2030, while 800,000 seafarers would require some additional training by the mid-2030s. This is based on the assumption that there will be a sharp ramp-up of alternative fuels in the 2020s.

Under this scenario, the number of seafarers requiring some kind of additional training rises steeply from the 2020s until 2050.

Accounting for 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the global shipping industry is facing major transformations ahead, and is experiencing mounting pressure to reduce its carbon footprint.

For the shipping industry to reach absolute zero emissions, the implementation of alternative fuel technologies will have to be scaled up leading to 2050. In the meantime, the shipping industry will have to transition from conventional fuels such as marine gas oil (MGO) and heavy fuel oil (HFO), to low-carbon and zero-carbon alternative fuel technologies (Hydrogen, Ammonia, Methanol, Batteries).

The introduction of alternative fuel technologies is expected to have an impact on maritime operations on board ships, which will consequently require seafarers to develop and acquire new skills and competencies to ensure safe and efficient operations in the decades up to 2050 and beyond.

The report cited that training seafarers to support shipping’s decarbonization has its constraints. The challenges include slow pace of regulatory development and lack of clarity surrounding the viability and uptake of alternative fuel options and decarbonization trajectories, which makes investment in seafarer training challenging; a need to increase investment in training centres and up-to-date equipment; a lack of competent trainers; and a shortage of experienced seafarers.

The decarbonization of shipping is, however, not the only major transformation the industry is facing. Alongside decarbonization, the industry is expecting the digitalization of shipping and the increased automation of ship systems to continue. These changes will affect seafarers.

Meeting decarbonization goals, coupled with fast-moving technological developments, including increased automation, requires careful monitoring and reflects a general trend towards a ‘higher-skilled’ seafarer. In addition to heightened safety skills and a ‘safety mindset’, the future-ready seafarer has to have the ability to master complex maritime operations and sustainable ship operations to meet the demands associated with decarbonization.

The Hamburg School of Business and Administration pointed out that workers will need to acquire creative and social skills to qualify for post-automation jobs, and that the profound changes caused by the technological transformation will have to be managed through communication and negotiation.

To enable the implementation of new technology in shipping, personal skills such as

the ability to make use of new working methods; to learn new skills as technology changes; ability to be creative and interact socially with others; and multi-lingual skills for communication in a global operation are much needed. Competencies such as innovation mindset to understand business development and take advantage of digital technology and analytical thinking to interpret and understand the need for change and the measures are required.

Attracting and retaining seafarers will be a challenge when it comes to implementing new onboard decarbonization-related technologies. This challenge may be further exacerbated in the future as other industries will also be competing for the competencies the future seafarer will require, such as digital skills or a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) background.

Finding and retaining suitable candidates is considered a challenge by many of those interviewed in the report, with many asserting that the recruitment of seafarers (especially officers) will remain a challenge in the coming years.

According to a study released by ICS and BIMCO (2021), when recruiting STCW-certified seafarers, companies report the highest level of difficulty in recruiting Engineering Officers and Electro-Technical Officers, while advising that it is relatively easier to recruit ratings to work both on deck and in the engine room. The report highlighted a current shortfall of 26,240 STCW-certified officers, indicating that demand for seafarers in 2021 has outpaced supply.

SMOU recognises the importance of training a future-ready seafarer and ranks employability high in its priority.

In her New Year Message, SMOU GS Ms Liew said: “Employability ties in closely with having relevant skills to offer and it is important for our members to be future-ready.”

SMOU and Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) are very mindful that seafarers require additional training to achieve shipping’s accelerating decarbonization goals. “Training for the future of green shipping is therefore essential and crucial for better employment and employability of our members so that no one gets left behind.”

As part of the exercise to equip maritime professionals to be LNG-ready for the Dual Fuel vessels, WMI partnered PIL and GTT Training UK to organise the STCW required programme on Basic Training For Service onboard Ships subject to the IGF Code in November 2022.

In 2023, SMOU invites more shipping partners to collaborate with WMI to upskill the existing seafarer workforce in new tech training so that they can competently transit to low-carbon transport.

The Union also calls upon shipping companies to work with WMI to train the maritime workforce of the future in green technologies and reach environmental goals.

“Let’s work together to equip our seafarers for the future of shipping and be at the forefront of the maritime industry.”