A view from the FOC'SLE #2: Crewing Matters

BLOG | June 2022

A warm welcome back to the Foc’sle!

For this entry, join me in a look at the current crewing situation and the directions that the issue may take.

Coming out of the COVID-19 lockdowns — where crew members were unable to join or leave their ships or even go ashore for a haircut — things may now be looking up. But the COVID-19 problem was simply yet another bad actor in the crewing saga.

In earlier, less ‘connected’ times, off-duty watchkeepers socialised together extensively. Cabins were provided with a door curtain, and if the door was open and the curtain pulled across, that signified a welcome to anyone to come and visit. If the door was closed, it meant ‘Do not enter’ as the occupant was probably trying to get some sleep. But now, doors stay closed and social visiting has dramatically reduced. The society onboard has become much less vibrant. The “Happiness Index” does not portend well for the industry.

crewing matters

To appease this, many container vessel owners have recently given equally remarkable crew bonus payments because of exceptionally good trading results. One well-reputed carrier even paid as much as 40 months’ worth of wages as a bonus. This is to be commended of course, but let’s stop for a moment to look at the longer-term implications.

A Chief Engineer or Master goes home after a year away, probably with 6 months’ pay in his home bank. Then, another 40 months’ worth of wages land in his account, and by the time the dust has settled, he has close to 4 years’ worth of wages in hand.

What will he do?

He may well think of the time he was stranded on board, the time he could not go ashore, the times that he missed his family, and rightly assume that the generous bonus just received should not be counted on as being a regular feature. He may then be sorely tempted to put the bonus money to good use and find a shore job or start a small business at home, and…he is lost to our industry.

So, what is to be done to slow this phenomenon also known as the ‘Crew Drain”?

There is no magic potion for this, but owners and ship managers may wish to consider these steps:

  • Strive, wherever possible, for the crew members to be allowed to have shore leave.
  • Look at pay and conditions, including daily victualling allowances, and avoid the temptation to counterbalance poor charter hire rates or rising bunker prices with cuts to crew costs.
  • Encourage better-performing crew members to return for repeated contracts by means of return bonuses or allowances.
  • It has been well proven that a motivated crew member does save owners significant amounts of money. So look at all possible ways to get the crew “on the side” and well-motivated. The industry simply cannot afford for the crew members to respond like “Deer in the headlights.”
  • Involve the senior officers in ship management decisions and don’t let them simply be ship drivers.
  • Investigate and develop career pathways that offer employment ashore within the ship owning and management community.

Several unmanned vessel trials are now underway, and no doubt the technology will be proven in due course. There are several unmanned tugs now operating in major ports. But for the foreseeable future, our ships will need well-trained, motivated crew members on board. We must be aware that this resource is finite and should be taken care of its sustenance accordingly.

 

Join me again next month on the Foc’sle when we will begin looking at Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) issues.

Sincerely,

The Lookout Man

capt jon elliot coastal marine

About The Lookout Man

Captain Jon Elliott

Jon became Far East Managing Director of Matthew Daniels in 1989. He then 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 and runs the 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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