All that could be said (to date) about the Ever Given crew is “relaxed but apprehensive”
The world is waiting to conclude involving the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), shipowner Shoei Kisen Kaisha, ship operator Evergreen Marine Corp, and UK’s P&I Club. The biggest wrench was the Club’s questioning about SCA’s claim of over $900 million. No payment has been made – and the vessel, Ever Given remains stranded at the canal with her crew.
Where does this leave seafarers?
Both the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) aggressively advocate seafarers’ welfare, with a significant focus on crew change. It is deemed a worldwide humanitarian crisis, with side effects including compromised physical and mental health. Additionally, crew is commonly known to be abandoned by shipowners’ and operators’ evading claims and legal troubles, even repatriation costs and wages. These collective issues resulted in the International Labour Organisation’s keeping a database of abandoned seafarers.
The existing tussle involving Ever Given placed a brighter spotlight on the crew change. Despite reports of Ever Given’s crew remaining paid, “relaxed but apprehensive”, hopes of improving the current crew change crisis look persistently grim.
ITF’s recent intervention for an exhausted captain’s sign-off is a glaring indication of indifference towards seafarers’ welfare. If an agency has to effect something that needs zero promptings, substantial efforts must address the current crisis. However, it appears to be a move of convenience with only the agencies’ advocating, not to mention the lukewarm response towards the Neptune Declaration calling for seafarers to be recognised as key workers. The declaration is an initiative by the Global Maritime Forum to champion industry accountability and end the deepening crew change crisis. As of March 2021, only 300 nations have signed the declaration.
Bridging seafarers’ supply and demand gap
Data from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) revealed China, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are estimated to be the five largest seafarers (officers and ratings) suppliers. The Philippines is the biggest supplier of ratings, followed by China, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. China is the biggest supplier of officers, followed by the Philippines, India, Indonesia and the Russian Federation.
The worldwide population of seafarers serving onboard is estimated at 1,647,500. Within this number, 774,000 are officers and 873,500 are ratings (skilled seafarers supporting officers onboard). The global demand for seafarers is estimated at 1,545,000, with the industry requiring approximately 790,500 officers and 754,500 ratings.
This is an increased demand for officers by 24.1 per cent, and ratings by 1 per cent. The current supply-demand situation highlights a shortage of approximately 16,500 officers and a surplus of around 119,000 ratings. While the global supply of officers is projected to increase, this trend is expected to be outpaced by growing demand.
Future outlook shows the industry and relevant stakeholders should not expect an abundant supply of qualified and competent seafarers without concerted efforts and measures to address key manpower issues, promote careers at sea, enhance maritime education and training, and retain seafarers. This is a clear message to all shipowners and operators to adjust their perspectives about crew welfare. Like any organisation, team members will be willing to invest in the company if their welfare is taken seriously. The same applies to crew supply: good manpower policies have to be in place to draw committed crew.