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Can the seafarer exodus be reversed in 2022?

Pandemic, border restrictions and vaccines paved the anticipation for a severe crew shortage

The industry was battered good and proper past 2 years. The biggest casualties were seafarers who worked relentlessly keeping our shelves filled with essentials. Despite campaigns pushing for improved treatment, there were fears of a mass exodus – an aftermath for the industry’s inaction. It should occur to anyone (by now) that this is still “fixable”.

Retention instead of exodus is possible
While these fears are warranted, it is also possible to reverse the exodus if right retention actions are taken. Beginning with vaccines, there were protests across the globe over slow distribution, topped with various theories inferring stakeholders did not care about crew. No one could deny the truth of borders slamming shut on vessels with unvaccinated crew, regardless for the right or wrong reasons. News of crew receiving vaccines onboard and offshore started to show up shortly after, proving there were stakeholders who cared. Critics would insist it was just a handful in the population.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) noted COVID-19 will have many variants as long as it remains loose in large unvaccinated locations. It added some 56 countries have imposed travel measures to guard against the Omicron as at 28 November 2021. To its credit, WHO stressed that blanket travel bans would not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. Yet Rajeshi Unni, CEO of ship management firm Synergy Group, reportedly revealed to a major media that some seafarers flying out from South Africa were diverted back and quarantined in hotels.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had only 60 out of its 174 member states recognised seafarers as essential workers. Nonetheless, it was encouraging to learn that the Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator for December revealed lesser seafarers remained onboard beyond their contracts, plus an increasing number of vaccinated crew.

A critical piece of evidence which proved the lackluster actions was companies’ disclosing the cruel truth. Western Shipping Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based tanker operator, revealed to Bloomberg 20 per cent of its 1000 crew are not inclined to return onboard. Anglo-Eastern Univan Group also reported that 5 per cent of its 30,000 cohort as of last month indicated they were not interested in a new contract.

A majority of seafarers abandoning their careers were senior crew members, with vast experience and tenure in sailing. This may affect skills transfer to junior officers if business continues as usual. BIMCO, ICS and Drewry projected that 2026 might be the tipping point of a coming seafarer shortage, as 90,000 more officers will be required to operate merchant vessels. However, if the badly needed single-voiced shout-out can get some real issues addressed, it may turn the tides resulting in a mass retention, not exodus.

Crewing Online News Team
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