Shipmanagement 2021: Covid and the lost generation of quality crew

In the first of a two-part preview of shipmanagement priorities in 2021, the world’s top shipmanagers discuss crew welfare and the recruitment fallout from the pandemic.

By common consent in the 50 years of third party shipmanagement 2020 was the sector’s most challenging period. This year will be spent getting staff and operations back to some form of normalcy with crew welfare topping the agenda of most senior shipmanagers surveyed by Splash for today’s special 2021 preview.

“The fallout effect of this pandemic has been very damaging for the future recruitment of seafarers,” warns Carl Schou, CEO and president of Wilhelmsen Ship Management.

The fallout effect of this pandemic has been very damaging for the future recruitment of seafarers

Schou, like others surveyed, says his company is determined to have a stronger emphasis on crew welfare this year.

“Looking back I definitely think we and the industry need to re-look the whole crewing part,” Schou says. “The pandemic has shown us a number of things which cannot be continued in a modern sustainable world.”

The Wilhelmsen executive cites Euronav’s Hugo De Stoop’s recent comments on how shipping – and crewing – have been trying to hide in the shadows.

“We need to get out of the shadows and lift the industry to something we can be proud of – something more than just finding the cheapest labour,” Schou argues, pointing out that a number of owners and charterers are taking actions to go above and beyond minimum standards.

During the later stages of the pandemic Schou has started seeing signs of crew not wanting to go back to sea. This, he says, can be attributed to a number of issues such as quarantines, the uncertainty of being able to sign-off once onboard, and the total lack of support and understanding from the general public.

Long-term impact on attracting quality personnel

Echoing Schou’s warning about potential difficulties in attracting the next generation of people to sea, Frank Coles, a former seafarer and now the CEO of Wallem Group, tells Splash: “People who have options and other means of survival will not go to sea.”

However, Coles points out there remains a large pool of people who do not have the luxury but their demands may increase in terms of salary and periods at sea.

Managers will need to cast the net more widely when it comes to recruitment

Coles sees this in some quarters already with a reluctance of some seafarers to return to sea without a vaccine, salary increase and or a clear path home again.

“The full extent of the fallout is yet to be determined, as the pandemic is not over in terms of the abuse of seafarers,” Coles suggests.

Kishore Rajvanshy, the veteran head of Fleet Management, is also concerned about the deleterious effects the crew change crisis will have on future recruitment prospects.

“The seafarer welfare and human rights crisis brought about by the inaction of governments internationally is unprecedented. Stories of seafarers being stranded at sea and subject to forced labour conditions due to travel restrictions have certainly alarmed the masses,” Rajvanshy says, adding: “I have no doubt, this will have a long-term impact on the quality of crew joining the industry in the foreseeable future.”

The right candidates

On the issue of crew recruitment concerns post-pandemic, Mark O’Neil, the president of Columbia Shipmanagement, argues there will always be sufficient numbers of people wanting a career at sea – by desire or by necessity. That’s not the problem – it’s more about securing the right candidates.

“What we want to try to achieve as a sector is that we attract the right people,” O’Neil stresses.

This is important, O’Neil says, not just for the time those people are at sea, but also for when they come ashore and fulfil the equally important shore-based roles.

“We have to better identify and communicate with our crews. We have to ensure that they receive the best training, catering, mental health support, benefits, career planning, family support, human resource attention. Do that and we will get the best people into the business and retain them throughout their working lives for the benefit of the sector as a whole,” says O’Neil, who is also president of shipmanagement association InterManager.

Andrew Airey, managing director of Bangkok-based shipmanager Highland Maritime, believes that the obvious damage to future crew recruitment may well be balanced by the real need for seafarers to earn a living in the tough economic times ahead, for everyone.

Key worker acid test

While Rajesh Unni, the CEO of Synergy Group, is pleased the United Nations and a host of countries have designated seafarers as key workers, he wants to find out what this classification means in practice.

“This is the acid test for 2021,” Unni suggests. “Will seafarers be near the top of the list for vaccinations, for example? How will their human rights and health be protected as governments respond to this new variant of Covid-19?”

These are the tangibles, Unni says, which will show if the world has moved on from the “inhumane” treatment of crew in 2020.

“My glass is half full and I’m optimistic that 2021 will be better for crews as well as for shipping and the global economy. But it’s also clear to me that managers will need to cast the net more widely when it comes to recruitment,” Unni says.

According to the Synergy boss, the crew change crisis has demonstrated the need for a larger pool of seafarer and shore talent both in terms of nationality and gender.

In the second part of our 2021 shipmanagement preview, the world’s top shipmanagers outline both their own plans this year and what their clients are looking for.


  1. All talking about crew welfare whereas the fact is how many ship owners / managers have free internet facility installed on board for crew, not to add various other cappings?

    1. That too Capt of Company like Fleet n Synergy talking

      Crew are overdue by 4 months, after doing 12 months, they talk about quality seafarers, probably Filipinos!

      Hire Germans n Australians n Canadians, they will know what cost is

  2. Crew are just like commodities for most companies. Crew welfare / human rights are least considered by most companies itself in normal situation and during pandemic forget about those. Loyalty expected only from crew side and not from the company.

  3. short contract for crew is the need of the hour. .those who sit in the office & makes decisions quit sailing becaus6they were mentally we8to continue at sea & want others to sail 270 inboard. 6 months contract should be implemented for all crew.

  4. Mentioning Crew welfare and Seafarers rights.So what about free internet here internet is expensive…no health card ..small salary…no peovident fund and now no shorelave…no benifits at all..inspite of all the hazards ang dangers we still go back at sea because of our family,,but now everybody is thingking twice..find another souce of survival and stay home..i hope you will address this problem…

  5. Its quite good everyone is considering the crew welfare as well as companies Too suffered crisis while changing the crew .Please start recruitment as there are number of seafarers who want to join .

  6. Must think about the permanent job structure if really want to attract new quality seafarers or keeping good trained seafarers at sea. Present structure is not attractive for high caliber people from Asian countries to stay in this field. 2nd most important issue is traveling of seafarers. Must make some internationally recognized document for which the carrier will get visa on arrival at least to IMO countries

  7. Nothing is going to change until managers start looking beyond cost cutting. There r many in the ranks presently being exploited by these management companies. And who needs a vaccine? Vaccination of a seafarer should be the choosing of the seafarer himself/herself and not be forced upon. Else, it will be another money making/seafarer exploitation racket…..

  8. Replying to Pinoy Seaman… Much truth in this. At the moment people who have finally managed to get home, after extended tours of duty with no shore leave at all, are finding themselves a little better off than usual ,thanks to no means of spending money, and are very reluctant to go back to sea in a metal box that they cannot get out of, in the knowledge that they cannot expect a vaccination before the end of their upcoming tour, so they will be wasting two or indeed more weeks in isolation when they get home.

    Every ship should have free Internet in each cabin. Nobody wants to have to talk to their wife or girlfriend in front of others. This is basic stuff.

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