Email Blast #6: Current issues of crewing

A view from the FOC'SLE #6: Current issues of crewing

BLOG | October 2022

It’s time once again for our session of “Lantern Swinging” up here on the Foc’sle, and as always, a warm welcome to all!

Today, we will look at some of the current issues around crewing. We will spread our net much wider than previously and consider the many larger types of vessels sailing the seven seas.

The major maritime labour sources are Eastern Europe, the Philippines, and perhaps the Indian sub-continent. The number of Norwegian, British, and American seafarers has dramatically reduced over the last few years, with perhaps German, French, and of course Greek nationals still holding on! We have not considered Chinese crew, as they tend to work in a separate market and not in the wider maritime community.

Many vessels now carry composite crew nationalities, with perhaps Russian or Ukrainian Masters and Chief Engineers, with Philippine officers and ratings. Occasionally one sees Indian Masters/Chiefs, with other nationalities as juniors and ratings.

So, what are the issues of possible concern here? These mixed nationalities have demonstrated, over the years, a striking ability to get along with each other – to their great credit.

crew member

There are three major issues:

  1. The ongoing supply of the normal end-of-contract crew change replacements. Ukrainian crew are not allowed to leave their country, once they return, as they are conscripted into the Army. Russian crew faces considerable travel difficulties to either get back home, or to leave home again. There is also the problem of remitting their wages to Russia. These difficulties have nothing to do with COVID, as the various quarantine restrictions have now been widely lifted but are solely a result of the war situation.
  2. The interaction between nationalities who, for all intents and purposes, are at war with each other. Your Lookout Man has come across a number of ships with mixed Ukrainian and Russian crew and, so far, there have been no reported ‘difficulties’ between them. But clearly, there must be interpersonal stresses and no Ship Manager would willingly assign crew to his ship knowing the risks such stresses may raise.
  1. The declining interest in maritime careers amongst bright youngsters worldwide.

So, what, you may ask, is the solution?

As always, the issues are more complex than they may at first seem, and the solution may not be available off the shelf!

Perhaps the maritime industry should take a step back and consider how it is positioning itself in the global labour market. This may be easier to do for the Owners of some vessel types than for others, and we did touch on the matter of bonus payments and the establishment of career paths earlier. The short-term solution, of course, is to replace currently serving Ukrainians and Russians at a crew-change time with Filipinos or Indians. However, there is a finite number of suitable candidates, and this solution is not at all sustainable.

A very embarrassing fact is that in 2021, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) inspectors managed to recover $37 million in unpaid seafarers’ wages on behalf of unpaid crew. Kudos to the 125 ITF Inspectors!

But the fact is that whilst our industry continues to tolerate Owners who create this sort of statistic, it is a small wonder why bright youngsters do not show much interest in a career at sea.


The Lookout Man

capt jon elliot coastal marine

About The Lookout Man

Captain Jon Elliott

Capt. Jon began his seafaring career in 1960.  He spent 11 Years in Taiwan running US Lines and then moved to Singapore in 1980 where he eventually joined Matthews Daniel in Singapore in 1989 and becoming Far East Managing Director. Capt. Jon started his own company Elliott Associates Pte Ltd after his retirement to bring an enhanced level of loss prevention to the Asian Marine industry. Capt. Jon is a consultant to Coastal Marine Asia Holdings Limited in our Loss Prevention Division providing technical guidance to our underwriters, whilst arranging crew and management loss prevention training for some of our insureds.

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