International seafarers day and the urgent need for training
The IMO’s Day of the Seafarer falls on June 25, a timely reminder of the critical role that mariners play in supporting the global economy. Its an underappreciated job and for the most part one that falls below the radar of those that consume the products and services it underpins.
Every once in a while, the focus is sharpened, whether as a result of the pandemic or the regular warnings of shortfalls, neither of which manage to derail the industry completely. The next decade presents a much more structural set of challenges; reflecting a period of time in which the industry enters a long transition to smarter, cleaner operations.
The result is that seafarers – rather than disappearing – will become even more important to the business of safely operating and navigating ships. The challenge for policymakers and regulators is stark: is it better to try and revise the four pillars of regulations or provide much more training to close the gaps?
Two recent studies by classification societies point the way – and indicate the scale of the challenge.
DNV and the Singapore Maritime Foundation have published research combining literature review, expert consultations and a survey of over 500 seafarers concluding there is a range of critical training needs in decarbonization and digitalization.
Some 81% of seafarers surveyed indicated that they require either partial or complete training to effectively work with the advanced technology that will be present onboard future ships. Similarly, over 75% of the respondents expressed a requirement for partial or complete training on new fuel types such as LNG, batteries or synthetic fuels. This training deficit rose to 87% of survey respondents for emerging fuels such as ammonia, hydrogen and methanol.
As shipowners and operators are increasingly deploying modern technologies onboard and exploring the use of alternative fuels in a bid to stay compliant, the handling of incoming fuels and technologies will require the crew to have additional skill sets and thus the need for comprehensive training. At the same time, growing automation of components and systems onboard is expected to bring about a rise in autonomous and smart ships, thus the need to consider remote shore monitoring in the future.
With decarbonization and digitalization rapidly transforming the maritime landscape, it is essential that shipowners and managers understand the new challenges and opportunities that these forces present according to DNV’s Cristina Saenz de Santa Maria. “Proper training and industry collaboration will be imperative to ensure seafarers are equipped with the competence and skills to operate ships using new fuels and technologies in a safe and efficient manner.”
Lloyd’s Register (LR) like DNV, is a member of the Maritime Technologies Forum (MTF) and has recently published a similar analysis concluding there is a large gap between current and future skills requirements.
In fact, the industry has already begun the transition to alternative fuels but LR found seafarers are not necessarily ready from a safety and training perspective. A recent report commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force Secretariat predicts a significant rise in the number of seafarers needing training on alternative fuel technologies in the 2040s, between 310,000 and 750,000 people.
With the number of alternative-fuel ships set to rise considerably over the next few years, now is the right time to identify these gaps and make suitable recommendations to close them, so our industry can decarbonise safely and efficiently.
This matters not least because of the industry’s expectation of revisions to the IMO’s GHG Strategy at MEPC80 in July, which may make the regulatory requirements for decarbonisation more stringent.
“We were expecting this to get more challenging in terms of the targets for the industry to meet,” says the report’s author Yildiz Williams of LR. “it is more important than ever to make sure that, as more operators turn to alternative fuels, the gaps in training and safety are identified and closed. That is what the recommendations from this report seek to do.”
Alternative fuels are not the only method industry is using to meet its decarbonisation ambitions and requirements, but according to Williams, it’s the dominant one. Other methods such as energy saving devices are also important when it comes to training. For example, with the installation of sails, the crew still needs to be trained and competent.
The skills gaps identified by the MTF report are with the ISM Code, STCW Convention and MLC. It identified a number of areas of the ISM Code which need additional guidance, largely due to the additional risks associated with alternative fuels and the industry’s lack of familiarisation with them.
The STCW Convention is currently undergoing a comprehensive review but, as Williams makes clear, “the intended output from the comprehensive review is unknown at this point”.
Currently, MLC and international guidelines do not address alternative fuels, a situation that could lead to health and safety considerations being overlooked by operators and there is a need to reference alternative fuels and for guidelines which will ensure that the industry addresses the relevant requirements in their national legislation.
As the industry celebrates the contribution that seafarers make to the global economy and sustaining the quality of our lives it’s important that the industry in turn recognises the need to support them. Without the required training and upskilling, we run the risk that the transition will be neither safe nor sustainable.