According to Drewry, currently there is a global officer shortage equating to around 2% of overall demand, though presently this is masked by the temporary idling of vessels due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yet, when the merchant fleet is fully reactivated this shortfall will re-emerge and represent a tightening of supply conditions compared to 2019 when the market was estimated to be in broad balance.

Concerning the future, demand for officers is expected to rise due to a revision in anticipated employment practices to extend leave periods and reduce tours of duty, with the resultant impact on man-berth ratios.

In the meantime, net supply of officers has been slowing in recent years and is not expected to keep pace with rising demand, leading to a widening in the overall shortfall relative to merchant shipping’s requirements.

Drewry’s senior manning analyst Rhett Harris stated that

Seafaring is no longer the attractive occupation it once was as competition from shore-based roles intensifies and the lifestyle with its associated mental health challenges becomes less appealing.

The widening shortage is also expected to pressure seafarer remuneration just when shipowners will be under pressure to trim costs in light of weak anticipated earnings. Drewry estimates that overall manning costs have flatlined in 2020 but are set to pick up over the next few years (see chart).

Skills and experience for specialist roles remain in demand and are in even tighter supply than the manning market as a whole. There is also likely to be increased demand for seafarers from traditional low cost supply nationalities which will further add to inflationary manning cost pressures.

Harris added that

Further wage pressure will arise to maintain competiveness with shore-based work, particularly following the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which highlighted the health and lifestyle risks of a career at sea. As well as wage rates the overall work life balance dictated by tour lengths and leave rations are expected to become key considerations for employees and employers.