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November 30, 2010

Tightening labor market ahead for shipping?

As shipping markets recover, the industry will most probably face a tightening labor market, with recurrent shortages for officers, cautions Douglas Lang of ship management group Anglo Eastern.

Mr. Lang is chairman of the steering committee for the BIMCO/International Shipping Federation study of the worldwide supply and demand for seafarers. The first pioneering study was conducted in 1990 and has since been updated every five years. The conclusions of the 2010 Update were presented today to governments attending the current IMO Maritime Safety Committee meeting in London.

The worldwide supply of seafarers in 2010 is estimated to be 624,000 officers and 747,000 ratings, while the current worldwide demand for seafarers is 637,000 officers and 747,000 ratings.

"Our results suggest a situation of approximate balance between demand and supply for ratings, with a modest overall shortage of officers of about two percent," says Mr. Lang. Though some individual shipping companies may be having serious recruitment problems, overall supply and demand are currently more or less in balance.

The BIMCO/ISF study shows that shortages are more acute in specialized sectors such as tankers and offshore support vessels. There is also an underlying concern about the current and future availability of senior officers of some nationalities.

While there is some evidence of continuing recruitment and retention problems, these are not as severe as foreseen in the Update produced by BIMCO and ISF in 2005. Encouragingly, says BIMCO, the data suggest a notable improvement in supply side numbers over the past five years, notably in China, India and the Philippines, but also in several OECD countries.

The 2010 Update also presents various global supply/demand balance scenarios for the next decade.

Mr Lang remarked:

"There are many uncertainties, but our results indicate that the industry will most probably face a tightening labour market, with recurrent shortages for officers, particularly as shipping markets recover. Unless measures are taken to ensure a continued rapid growth in qualified seafarer numbers, especially for officers, and/or to reduce wastage from the industry, existing shortages are likely to intensify over the next decade. Supply appears likely to increase in many countries, but the positive trend that has been established for training and recruitment over the past few years must continue to be maintained to ensure a suitable future pool of qualified seafarers."

The 2010 Update is based on data collected from questionnaires sent to governments, shipping companies and crewing experts. It also incorporates the views and perceptions of senior executives in shipping companies and maritime administrations, and detailed statistical analysis provided by the Warwick Institute for Employment Research. For the first time, the study has been assisted by Dalian Maritime University which has helped obtain input from Asian countries where it had previously been difficult to obtain definitive data.


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