NEW research from Drewry has found the seafarer labour market is the tightest it has been since the shipping consultancy began analysing it 17 years ago.  

Drewry’s latest Manning Annual Review and Forecast report suggests officer supply shortfall has reached a record high.

Drewry does not expect the situation to improve; it said the shortfall is leading to manning cost inflation.

The 2023/24 report found this year’s officer availability gap has widened to a deficit equating to about 9% of the global pool, up from a 5% shortfall reported in 2022.

Drewry forecast similar deficit levels for 2023 to 2028 based on the limits of new seafarer supply becoming available in that period.

It said the deficit levels are based on vessel numbers and assumptions around crewing levels – therefore largely theoretical – but indiate the seafarer labour market has become particularly tight, with implications for recruitment, retention and manning costs.

“Employers are seeking alternative sources of supply to fill the gap, and wages have also begun to show more volatility,” Drewry head of manning research Rhett Harris said.

“While sectors like containerships and offshore supply vessels have already seen increasing wage rates due to the strength of the sectors, we expect wage cost to accelerate for other vessel types as well.”

Drewry’s report noted the effects of Covid are still persistent for the maritime labour market because of impacts on crew training and the overall appeal of working at sea.

“This was mainly due to the various stories of crews stuck on board vessels, too often in dire conditions,” Drewry said.

“As a result, the importance of wellbeing has come to the forefront in employee retention, and the trend of looking beyond wage rates is becoming stronger by the day.

“Things like good communication channels with families at home, comfortable facilities onboard and a supportive work environment are gaining importance.”

Drewry also highlighted the impacts the Russia-Ukraine war had for seafarer supply. It said many experienced crews returned home to join the military.

“Unfortunately, there is no end in sight to the war currently, so we expect numbers of new seafarers from Russia and Ukraine to be very limited for a while,” it said.

“While vessel manning will be challenging over the few next years, especially with regard to officer availability because of these issues, the accelerating growth of the global deep sea vessel fleet will make the situation even more difficult.”

The Manning Annual Review and Forecast aims to provide a complete, yearly assessment of vessel manning costs.

It covers seafarer cost assessments, trends and employment terms for 38 types of ships spanning chemical, container, dry bulk, general cargo, LPG, LNG, offshore, oil tankers, reefers and RoRo sectors.