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Shipping industry facing global shortage of 148,000 officers

2 June 2016

The beleaguered shipping industry – already hit by slumping demand and overcapacity – is facing a growing long-term threat from understaffing, according to a study.

The Manpower Report, published by shipping association BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) every five years, said the industry was currently facing a global shortfall of about 16,500 officers.

The supply of shipping officers is forecast to increase steadily due to improved recruitment and retention, but this is predicted to be outpaced by increasing demand. By 2025 the shortfall will have grown to 147,500 officers.

Certain categories of officer such as engineer officers at management level and officers for specialised ships such as chemical, LNG (liquid natural gas) and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) carriers will be in particularly short supply.

Over the past five years the industry has increased recruitment and training levels and reduced officer loss through retention and increasing the number of years they serve at sea.

But the report warns that unless significantly more officers are trained, the growth in demand for seafarers will far outstrip supply.

However, where ratings (ordinary seamen) are concerned there is a current surplus of about 119,000.

Demand for ratings has only having increased by about 1% since 2010 whereas demand for officers has increased by around 24.1% in the same period.  

China is believed to have overtaken the Philippines as the largest supplier of qualified international seafarers, though the Philippines remains the largest source of ratings.

Data from international shipping companies suggests the Philippines and Russia are seen as the most important sources of officers, followed closely by Ukraine and India.

ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe said: “Without continuing efforts to promote careers at sea and improve levels of recruitment and retention, the report suggests it cannot be guaranteed that there will be an abundant supply of seafarers in the future.”

The report added: “It is crucial to promote careers at sea, enhance maritime education and training worldwide, address the retention of seafarers, and to continue monitoring the global supply and demand for seafarers on a regular basis.”

The report estimates that in 2015 there were around 1,647,500 seafarers, of which approximately 774,000 were officers and 873,500 were ratings, serving a world merchant fleet of 68,723 ships.

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