You are here

Challenges facing shipping’s ‘green transition’ and the training of seafarers

Challenges facing shipping’s ‘green transition’ and the training of seafarers
David Hughes, May 30, 2023

A COUPLE of weeks ago, the Philippines’ Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) hosted a conference aimed at showcasing “the steady progress by key seafarer home nations in Asia, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, to equip their maritime workers with the skill sets needed to deliver a low and zero-carbon maritime sector”.

The Seizing opportunities for green shipping in Asia and the Pacific conference was organised by Marina in collaboration with the Danish Maritime Authority, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The two-day conference explored the challenges and opportunities of shipping’s decarbonisation, including skills development for seafarers, and a “Maritime Just Transition” – a term taken up enthusiastically by shipowners and seafarer unions.

In fact, the conference was strongly supported and publicised by the International Chamber of Shipping, the global shipowners’ body. Philippine Transmarine Carriers CEO and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) board member Gerardo A Borromeo put the case for more specialist training, saying: “Shipping’s ability to decarbonise is highly dependent on having well-qualified and highly skilled maritime professionals who can operate these vessels in a safe and efficient manner. There is no doubt that the skill set for a career at sea is evolving. That is why we need to ensure that we provide the right kind of education and training so future generations of seafarers are able, skilled and ready to handle the new technologies and fuels on board that will increasingly be used in the years ahead. Countries with a strong maritime workforce must keep pace with the changing requirements of our industry as we transition to a low and zero-carbon future which will benefit everyone.”

The ICS asserted in a statement that, with 252,392 of the world’s seafarers – 13.3 per cent of global crew members – calling the Philippines home, the country’s ability to shift its training systems towards low and zero-carbon will impact the maritime sector’s progress on climate targets.

The organisation noted that the country has already taken steps to prepare, with President Marcos launching the tripartite International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA) in January 2023. In addition to advising on how best to ensure the global competitiveness of Filipino seafarers, the committee is a key forum for the country to prepare future seafarers for a Maritime Just Transition.

Sonia B Malaluan, deputy administrator for planning at Marina, said: “Filipino seafarers have a long history of powering sea-borne trade, and we hope to continue this tradition as we move towards decarbonised horizons. While this transition is certainly a challenge for the maritime sector as a whole, there are definitely opportunities to be seized by early movers, and we hope that our efforts will bear fruit for our seafarers and grant them access to high-quality jobs and long careers.”

Similarly, the ICS said that Indonesia is also making inroads to upskill its maritime workforce in line with the emerging needs of the sector through its “Skills for Prosperity programme in Indonesia”, delivered by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The country, which is home to about 7.6 per cent (143,702) of the world’s seafarers, is modernising its training regime through international partnerships that share knowledge as well as best practices. The UK-funded programme includes the establishment of an industry advisory board for each of the four Indonesian polytechnics involved. The ICS notes that this structure aims to promote closer collaboration between education and industry, and provides clear progression for graduates into skilled employment.

These initiatives are based on the quite reasonable assumption that maritime operations of the future are likely to be significantly more complex, with new fuels and technologies being used in an increasingly digital and automated work environment. And, according to the ICS, this is a “fact that is likely to influence the upcoming review of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) convention and code”.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, it would be equally valid to assume that increased use of automated systems, artificial intelligence and, potentially, uncrewed vessels could reduce the requirement for highly skilled seafarers. Also, the advent of CO2 scrubbers could mean that a large portion of the world’s fleet will continue to operate without major technological changes on board.

As the ICS notes, the STCW is up for review. That is fine but, for the unions, Fabrizio Barcellona, coordinator of the Seafarers and Inland Navigation Section at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) warned: “Although the actions by the Filipino and Indonesian authorities are admirable, there is still much to be done if we are to appropriately empower a global seafaring workforce of the future. Improving the training environment is a very necessary first step – particularly given the concerns about STCW compliance and competency. This must be followed by upgrading to a new, modern and coordinated model for apprenticeships and cadet training with quality, enduring schemes backed by shipowners, unions and governments. Collaboration between these sets of stakeholders is essential to deliver a Maritime Just Transition and safeguard their long-term standing as global leaders in seafaring.”

He is right – at least to the extent that we will still need seafarers – and it is worth bearing in mind the wider context regarding training standards.

In December 2021, following a detailed assessment of the training and certification system in place, the European Commission informed the Philippines that recognition of their seafarer certificates would be withdrawn unless serious measures were taken, including the compliance with the STCW.

In March this year, the commission reported that the Philippines had made “serious efforts to comply with the requirements”, in particular in key areas such as the monitoring, supervision and evaluation of training and assessment. Consequently it announced that it had decided to continue recognising certificates for seafarers issued by the Philippines.

The EU’s Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean, said: “We appreciate the constructive cooperation with the Philippine authorities, and welcome their efforts to improve the system for training and certifying seafarers. The Philippines provides a significant and valued part of the European and global shipping industry’s maritime workforce. Indeed, with roughly 50,000 Filipino masters and officers currently working on EU-flagged ships, the Philippines can count on our technical support to further improve the implementation and oversight of minimum education, training and certification requirements, as well as living and working conditions.”

A commission statement said that “in the coming months”, the commission intends to provide the Philippines with technical assistance to further improve its education, training and certification system for seafarers.

The above demonstrates that – never mind new technologies for decarbonisation – there is still plenty of work to be done now on basic competencies.