While almost everything we owe has traveled on a ship before it reached our hands, a recent report by Nautilus International confirms low levels of awareness and understanding of maritime amongst the wider public in the UK. Why “sea blindness” seems to insist and what does it mean for the future of shipping?
s an ancient B2B industry, shipping has been traditionally problematic in communicating its importance to the wider public, but the extent of this sad reality is not highlighted unless put down to numbers. The Maritime Barometer report 2022 surprisingly showed that only one in a thousand people (0.1%) in the UK know that more than 90% of goods that are consumed in the country arrive by sea, with respondents on average estimating the figure to be 48%.
The report came to validate a challenge that the maritime sector has recognized for several years now, generally described under the term “sea blindness”. The term describes a lack of awareness among the public, media, and decision-makers, impacting the maritime sector’s ability to, for example, attract support, investment and ultimately entice talent into seafaring.
While seafarers keep the world economy going, it took a pandemic for the public to spotlight the importance of seafarers, as this importance became more obvious when the shelves were empty and people could not actually get their stuff, noted Mrs. Sara Baade, CEO, Sailors’ Society, during the Crew Welfare Week in June.
Sea blindness – Key findings
- Respondents believed that shark attacks are more common than pirate attacks (45% vs. 37%), while, in reality, there were 132 piracy incidents reported globally in 2021 and 73 unprovoked shark attacks.
- 33% of respondents were unable to name the nearest to them port.
- More than half of respondents couldn’t name any well-known seafarers (58%).
- Only a fifth of the public (21%) believe that seafarers deserve key worker status.
- Fewer than a fifth of the population (18%) know someone personally who works at sea
- 35% said they would consider a career at sea should the opportunity present itself.
What does “sea blindness” mean for the future of shipping?
The consequences of the world’s limited awareness of the importance of shipping have been recognized long ago. The popularity of careers in maritime has been steadily in decline in the last years, despite new demands on officers and ratings. Last year’s figures by Drewry forecasted the highest shortfall of officers to crew the world’s merchant fleet in over a decade by 2026, due to a diminishing attractiveness of a career at sea, coupled with rising man-berth ratios and continued fleet growth. In addition, the crew change crisis, which left so many crew members trapped onboard for consecutive months, added to the issue, possibly turning the image of the industry from blind to negative.
One of the significant issues affecting recruitment within the UK’s maritime sector is the lack of awareness of the opportunities available. More than a third of the UK population (35%) said they would consider a career at sea should the opportunity present itself, but the industry’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind nature is preventing people from proactively considering maritime jobs
…the report reads.
How can shipping stop being invisible?
Addressing some of the unattractive aspects of the job will be a useful way forward. In today’s society, this translates to addressing the challenges related to mental health and achieving a work-life balance. The deep integration of millennials into the workforce and their ongoing leadership has redefined the demands and expectations of the current workplace and this cannot leave shipping unaffected.
The social and working conditions of seafarers need to be improved – not least enhanced connectivity – and further steps towards a diverse and inclusive industry all require major attention, not only for current seafarers but also if we are to recruit the maritime professionals we need for the future. Broader industry issues, including securing jobs as we address the environmental impacts of shipping (the so called “just transition”), will also need to be considered in the coming years
…said Nautilus International General Secretary, Mark Dickinson.
Education has also a major role to play in the future of shipping attractiveness, experts seem to agree. Young people are not receiving adequate information in schools or from their families. According to the Nautilus report, only 4% of the UK population heard about or discussed career prospects in maritime at school or college, while only 6% of respondents said they would opt for a maritime career as potentially the most financially rewarding.
Finally, increasing the industry’s diversity hides great potential for attracting the right talent. Despite the significant imbalance between the number of men and women working within the maritime industry, findings from the Nautilus survey revealed there to be an untapped jobs market, with a third of women (32%) in the UK saying that they would consider a career at sea.
There must be a societal shift in attitude and a greater level of understanding and appreciation among all stakeholders around the prerequisites to futureproof the maritime industry and secure our maritime resilience before it’s too late