Officer shortfall forecast to widen

The current officer shortfall to crew the global merchant fleet is forecast to widen, despite the dampening effect of Covid-19. This is due to the reduced attractiveness of a career at sea and rising man-berth ratios which will inflate future manning costs, according to the latest Manning Annual Review and Forecast report published by UK shipping consultancy Drewry, a publication that has drawn immediate debate among the crewing community (see Tweet below).

Drewry estimates that there is currently 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. However, once 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.

Looking ahead, despite moderating fleet growth, demand for officers is expected to accelerate 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

“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,” said Drewry’s senior manning analyst Rhett Harris. “The Covid-19 outbreak has dealt a further blow to the occupation’s reputation with high profile news stories of stranded crews and enforced longer tours of duty.”

The widening officer shortage is expected to put upward pressure on 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.

“Further wage pressure will arise to maintain competiveness with shore-based work, particularly following the coronavirus 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,” added Harris.

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.

“The past few years have seen good industry retention rates and a generally settled employment market. However, ship operators need to beware of officer availability trends and the deteriorating attractiveness of a career at sea. Officers cannot be recruited and trained to gain the experience required in a short period of time,” concluded Harris.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. This industry has morphed into a disgusting place of work. Overworked, underpaid, under manned, social isolation, over micro managed, under represented, questionable hiring practices, exploitation, crew abandonment, constant MLC violations, seafarer criminalisation, the people part of this noble profession being treated like dirt, constantly having job being threatened for voicing out bad practices, only the desperate bottom feeders coming onboard to make a quick buck and running a shit show onboard. i could go on…

  2. If the shortfall will widen or not it is mainly the fault/merit of the industry in general.Starting with IMO and Owners,Management Companies,Manning Agents,Universities,etc….
    Cannot pretend to have good and stable pool of officers when everything is set to make the life of an officer more and more difficult ,not to say more.
    I remember what I was required by the job description to do in 1987 when i became an Junior 3rd Officer.I see now on board my vessels where i take commands , and it makes me angry,and furious!
    Officers are not anymore Officers but slaves as computer stickers and messaging gigs,and filling system computerised AND in hard copy(just to make sure there is a back up),They cannot relax properly because ships are vibrating more,are more noisy,are more loaded with operational regulations and so on.
    In my period of Chief officer and Master of 25 years(excepted 3rd and 2nd off period) i can count as less than 10 shore visits and when it happen it was for Legal issues or Medical.
    Where are times when an officer could visit a new port and relax on a terrace with a pint of beer or a juice,or ..whatever.
    It is gone.
    How can the crew of modern days keep contact with family?
    MLC requires access to phone guaranteed.
    It does not make the internet compulsory ,hence ,many cheap Managers ,being afraid of the possibility of crew sending messages not very convenient to them,are not offering internet. Yet this days.
    What it the gap pay between shore and ship?
    In many cases not existing.
    How many Companies in the world are offering inssurance cover to Seafarers and Families or pension benefits?
    Very few,and those are the big western and US companies.Rest of them,that are accounting for more that 75% of the world fleet?
    Then ,everyone looks for YOUNG and Experienced Officers.
    You expect them to be born with the officer ticket in hand?

    IMO,Companies,Dear Managers really have to rethink the selection and training policies then we can talk about closing the officers shortfall.

  3. The root cause of this anomaly is that shipmanagers do not like cadets (specially the female and european cadets). The corrective action has to be to fire these managers!

    Then we will see new, younger and happy faces on deck.

  4. Greetings,

    Yes to every single thing my fellow mariners are stating above; Thank you Epure and Duke! Here in the USA, we do have a couple of seemingly solid labor unions to help with a pension, however, I am dubious.

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