Officer shortage a crisis of confidence?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

18 May 2016


A joint report by BIMCO and ICS on the global manpower situation in the shipping industry painted a somewhat gloomy picture of the future with a forecast of a shortage of 147,500 officers in 2025 just nine years in to the future. The report indicates that the forecast growth in the world merchant fleet over the next ten years, and its anticipated demand for seafarers, will likely continue the trend of an overall shortage in the supply of officers. This is despite improved recruitment and training levels and reductions in officer wastage rates over the past five years. According to the report, the current supply-demand situation is a shortage of 16,500 officers and a surplus of 119,000 ratings, with an overall surplus of 102,500 seafarers. The global supply of seafarers in 2015 is estimated at 1,647,500 seafarers, of which 774,000 are officers and 873,500 are ratings. Encouragingly this has increased over the past five years, with both numbers of qualified officers and ratings available to the internationally trading world merchant fleet continuing to increase. The number of officers was reported to have increased by 34% between 2005 and 2010, and is now estimated to have increased by 24% in the past five years. The following figure provides a summary of how the estimated global supply of seafarers has increased since 2005. Most would see these figures as encouraging but the report says that whilst the estimated wastage and turnover rates are considered to be generally positive, the current contribution of recruitment and training is not sufficient to reduce the current shortage of officers or keep pace with the forecast demand for officers in the future. Shortages of seafarers have been predicted consistently for decades now but the predicted problems never seem to materialise. In part this has been down to a reduction in numbers on board that has probably gone too far if the truth be told as the surplus of ratings appears to underline. Should we really find the sentiments of the report surprising? Probably not if you consider that the industry is not doing the best it could to encourage new recruits. What with constant talk of over-capacity in shipping, ships laid up in almost all sectors and regular demands for more ships to be sent for scrap if shipping is ever to become profitable again and all the talk of autonomous ships being just around the corner, you can hardly blame a young aspiring officer for wondering if shipping will provide a decent career after all.