Seafarer Labour Market Tightest On Record

Officer supply shortfall has reached a record high and is not expected to improve, leading to manning cost inflation, according to the latest Manning Annual Review and Forecast report published by global shipping consultancy Drewry.

The 2023 officer availability gap has widened to a deficit equating to about 9% of the global pool, which represents a marked rise from last year’s 5% shortfall and the highest level since Drewry first started analyzing the seafarer market 17 years ago. Similar deficit levels are forecast for 2023-2028 based on the limits of new seafarer supply becoming available in the period. While these deficit levels are based on vessel numbers together with assumptions on crewing levels and so largely theoretical, they clearly indicate that the seafarer labor market has become particularly tight, with important implications for recruitment and retention as well as manning costs.

Although 2020 is now more and more behind us, the effects of Covid-19 are still persistent, as it not only had a substantial impact on crew training but also on the overall appeal of working at sea. This was mainly due to the various stories of crews stuck on board vessels, too often in dire conditions.

Global officer demand and supply, 1 January 2023

Source: Drewry‘s Manning Annual Review and Forecast 2023/24
Source: Drewry‘s Manning Annual Review and Forecast 2023/24

As a result, the importance of well-being has come to the forefront of employee retention, and the trend of looking beyond wage rates is becoming stronger by the day. Things like good communication channels with families at home, comfortable facilities onboard, and a supportive work environment are gaining importance.

The most challenging period of the pandemic had hardly ended when the eruption of the Russia-Ukraine war created further challenges in seafarer supply, with many experienced crews returning home to join the military. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight to the war currently, so we expect the numbers of new seafarers from Russia and Ukraine to be very limited for a while.

While vessel manning will be challenging over the few next years, especially with regard to officer availability because of these issues, the accelerating growth of the global deep-sea vessel fleet will make the situation even more difficult.

“Employers are seeking alternative sources of supply to fill the gap, and wages have also begun to show more volatility,” said Drewry’s head of manning research Rhett Harris. “While sectors like containerships and offshore supply vessels have already seen increasing wage rates due to the strength of the sectors, we expect wage cost to accelerate for other vessel types as well.”

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