We could say that the ‘Human Element’ has been and will continue to be the key industry challenge as we go forward.


Looking at figures, BIMCO-ICS Manpower report showed that we have a current shortfall of officers and, in fact, over the next few years, the demand would be such, not only to cover the shortfall but to extend it further. Namely, the report identifies:

  • A current shortfall of about 16,500 officers (2.1%), but,
  • A need for an additional 147,500 officers by 2025 to service the world merchant fleet.

Some officer categories are in especially short supply, including engineer officers at management level and officers needed for specialised ships such as chemical, LNG and LPG carriers.

The report suggests that in the past five years the industry has made good progress with increasing recruitment and training levels and reducing officer wastage (i.e. retaining qualified seafarers and increasing the number of years which they serve at sea).

But the report indicates that, unless training levels are increased significantly, the growth in demand for seafarers could generate a serious shortage in the total supply of officers.

However, the report estimates there is a current surplus of about 119,000 ratings (15.8%), with demand only having increased by about 1% since 2010.

Significantly, China is thought to have overtaken the Philippines as the largest single source of seafarers qualified for international trade (although the Philippines is still the largest source of ratings).

However, data from international shipping companies suggests that the extent to which Chinese seafarers are available for international service may be more limited, with the Philippines and Russia seen as equally important sources of officers, followed closely by Ukraine and India.

Eastman Kodak is often cited as an example of a company that failed to grasp the significance of a technological transition that threatened its business.

The irony is that Kodak invented the digital camera, but the story goes, that the company failed to see the impact that digital cameras and smartphones would have on the way we take and share photos. The company couldn’t see the fundamental shift that was happening right under its nose, and that was its downfall.

Shipping can’t afford to be like Kodak. Digitalisation is coming to the shipping industry and it is coming fast.

What we need to do is acknowledge it, accept it and determine how we are going forward about it. We need to be ready to seize the opportunities that new technologies can offer, but also be prepared to manage and mitigate the threats.

We also need to remember that the human element – especially our seafarers -  are a very important factor for safe and effective shipping. When considering modern technology, we need to take the human element into consideration at every stage of the ship’s lifecycle including its design, build and commercial trading.

Moving on, new technology has made autonomous ships a reality, this is a fact.

Today, the number of unmanned ships is modest compared to their manned counterparts. Unmanned ships are mainly being used for marine scientific research and by the defence sector. Even so, the largest seldom extends beyond 15-20 meters in length, and they are operating in near coastal waters.

However, this is about to change, with prototypes for larger unmanned container carriers and small island ferries currently in development.

The IMO has set out to determine how the operation of autonomous ships might be introduced in IMO instruments. But alongside the regulatory developments, there are a range of practical issues which need to be resolved before we will see autonomous ships trade globally.

A few questions come to mind instantly:

  • What new skills will seafarers need to cope with the new technology?
  • Autonomous ships won’t need as many seafarers onboard. What will be the role of those remaining and will they be stressed by more admin?
  • Who will be responsible for the cargo, if the technology breaks down?
  • What will the service time be, for more advanced technology?
  • The price and many more questions of a practical nature, will have to be answered before ship owners can determine whether an autonomous ship is actually commercially viable.

Putting this aside, we are a people industry which brings us back to the beginning. Digitalisation has the potential to bring dramatic changes to our industry.

Some of those changes may be exciting opportunities and some of them may be serious challenges. Our industry may become leaner and more transparent. But it could also make our industry more vulnerable and we will need to manage and take measures to mitigate our cyber risk very carefully.

Automation may be a means of improving safe operations, but we must ensure that the result is not simply fewer crew, stressed by even greater administrative burdens.

Applied technology must help our seafarers in their everyday tasks by reducing their current workload and improving communications with the shore - not just with their employers but also with their families.


Above text is an edited article of Christiana Moustaki’s presentation during the 2018 SAFETY4SEA Cyprus Conference

You may view her video presentation herebelow

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.

With 27 years of experience in delivering Crew Management Services to Owner’s expectations covering a wide range of deep sea and off shore type vessels, Christiana is the Senior Crew Manager at FML Ship Management Ltd, member of Fleet Management Ltd a global leader in Ship Management services. Christiana started her career at V Ships in 1991 as a Crew Administration Manager being promoted to Crew Manager in 1997 and Senior Crew Manager (HoD) in 2004.  After completing 20 years with the company persued other opportunities as Commercial Manager and Crewing Director in other companies before being offered the role in Fleet Management in 2013.