The impact of COVID-19 on seafarers’ populations will be felt for many years to come
The impact of COVID-19 on seafarers’ populations will be felt for many years to come

The impact of COVID-19 on seafarers’ populations will be felt for many years to come

Here’s what’s in jeopardy tomorrow if we do not respond to the crisis of crew changes today.

By Hrishi Olickel and Irina Carbunaru – The crew change crisis rages on as changing Covid-19 restrictions complicate seafarers’ movements – and the ripple effects could continue to spread for the next five years. The staffing crisis and the increasing security risks of operating in a tense geopolitical environment are damaging morale. Operation and educational institutions is weakened by increased restrictions. There is concern that seafarers’ population growth, which is already lower than necessarywill slow down even more.

This slowdown must be tackled at every stage of the crew process: from improved training for seafarers at the very beginning of their careers, accelerated accreditation of senior managers and a holistic approach to crew welfare.

With a reduced workforce, many maritime operators face difficult decisions to maintain services. Businesses need to be at the forefront of innovation, otherwise the lack of human power will wreak havoc on global supply chains.

Problems in shipping have been exacerbated by the pandemic

While challenges in the shipping industry may have been overlooked before, border closures drew attention to how goods move between countries, where the maritime industry supporting the global supply chain was at the center. With increased awareness follows a decline in seafarers wishing to join the industry, further slowing population growth. As awareness of the supply chains of goods grows, the supply chain of the crew is often overlooked.

At its core is crew change crisis stems from the restrictions on movement from the early days of the pandemic. Seafarers with 6 or 9 month contracts were sometimes stranded on board for more than 18 months, while crews on land were unable to board ships. Seafarers are stuck on ships have fought with increasing fatigue and interpersonal tensions alongside declining mental and physical health, putting safety at sea at risk. There is a growing fatigue, exacerbated by the feeling that ships are working even harder to deliver on increased trade.

But the problems go deeper, and the effects are felt at the very beginning of the crew’s life cycle: educational institutions. Shutdowns and social distancing meant that educational institutions were closed, exams were canceled and certification processes were founded stall. Seafarers still looking for work have not been able to renew their licenses, which has further reduced the workforce of senior officers on this technique.

Crew safety used to be the primary concern for ship leaders globally, but crew welfare is increasing in importance; failure to meet these needs risks further alienating the declining workforce.

The impact on the future of maritime if we do not act now

While there is a shortage of seafarers, there is no shortage of demand for crew. We will probably see the situation get worse as soon as two years, according to the 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report. The world fleet is predicted to grow by 6.4% over the next five years, while a study by the International Chamber of Shipping showed that the demand for officers has increased by 24.1% without an increase in supply, meaning a shortage of about 16,500 officers. This expected shortfall will disproportionately affect smaller shipowners, operators and ship managers.

These impacts will not be felt evenly, and some economies will suffer more than others. Shipping is not an attractive profession in countries with better jobs on land, which further reduces the pool of unemployed workers. For example, companies in Singapore are limited to hiring Singaporeans while competing for attractive onshore jobs. These rules need to be relaxed to employ seafarers from less economically developed countries with fewer competitive job opportunities, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam. Relying on workers from these countries can also be complicated, as they may be subject to stricter immigration requirements.

Given the expected shortage of qualified seafarers, companies need to increase their efforts and resources in recruiting and developing sustainable crew pools. Without a crew, the shipping companies will have their operations disrupted.

The well-being of the crew must become the industry’s north star

Seafarers are the lifeblood of the maritime industry; the tide that moves goods globally. The industry has to challenge the long-standing view that people come second in terms of cargo and profit – without human power, the supply chain is broken.

As demand grows and the workforce shrinks, individual crew members come under increased pressure. Higher wages are not enough to retain staff, shipping companies need to keep their crew engaged and build collaborative relationships based on trust and loyalty by showing care for workers’ welfare and well-being. Research from Indonesia has shown that a work-life balance has a direct impact on work efficiency – happy and rested crews are more efficient workers.

In a rapidly changing global landscape where pandemics, route blockages and military campaigns can cause large-scale disruptions across industry, maritime makers need to future-proof their crews and operations by taking a more resilient approach to protecting their core needs.

If nothing changes, the industry risks losing its workers at an unprecedented pace. It is the key to bringing a human touch to ensure the well-being of the crew in shipping. This ensures that the crew is happy and healthy, which keeps the global supply chain running.


The Covid-19 pandemic has brought existing maritime resource issues to the forefront of the global conversation, where the crew replacement crisis has revealed the gaps in well-being on board. This must be resolved immediately, otherwise it will further slow down population growth for seafarers.

Lack of action will lead to massive consequences across the global value chain and within the supply chain for crew members. Smaller operators risk being disrupted without recovery, which will drastically reshape the competitive landscape of the shipping industry.

Digitization of crew processes is not just about smoother operations. Ultimately, it will ensure that crew leaders can free up time so that they can focus on bringing a greater human touch to also support the crew’s competence and well-being. By proactively dealing with the crisis of crew changes and stopped training programs, we can counter the dwindling number of crew members and lay the foundation for a more productive and committed workforce.

Hrishi Olickel is the CTO of Gray wing, a new maritime control system. Irina Carbunaru is General Manager of HR Marine at Bernard Schulte Ship Management.

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