The Future of Seafarers: A study into the challenges and opportunities
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The Future of Seafarers: A study into the challenges and opportunities

A DNV study co-sponsored by the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) examines the implications of two primary transformative trends – decarbonization and digitalization – on workforce preparedness in the current decade.

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The Future of Seafarers 2030: A Decade of Transformation

The study examines the implications of two primary transformative trends – decarbonization and digitalization – on workforce preparedness in the near future. Based on a literature review, expert consultations and a survey among over 500 seafarers, the study explores what skills seafarers will need to confront emerging challenges. Upskilling and reskilling programmes will be required to ensure safe and sustainable vessel operations and create the required skill levels in changing times. Seafarers tend to view digitalization as a greater challenge whilst industry representatives consider decarbonization as having a greater impact on skill profiles and training programmes.

The impact of decarbonization

Survey participants anticipate tightening global and regional emission regulations as well as new fuel technologies to have the most significant impact on education and training requirements. A significant skill gap is seen with regard to handling emerging fuels such as ammonia, methanol and hydrogen. Only 40% of respondents have served on ships using LNG, batteries, or synthetic fuels, and over 75% of respondents (of whom 78% were deck and engine officers) indicated a need for partial or complete training on these energy sources.

The impact of digitalization

The survey revealed that over 81% of respondents (of whom 85% were deck and engine officers) require partial or complete training in dealing with advanced digital technologies, such as further automation of equipment and systems, advanced sensors, artificial intelligence and remote operations. Seafarers must also be knowledgeable about advanced analytics and digital twins to optimize ship performance and plan maintenance.

The rise of shore control centres

Advanced technologies will make shore control centres (SCCs) more viable and prevalent. Transferring significant portions of ship operation and navigation activities to SCCs will improve on-board system monitoring and remote support of crews, enhance seafarer safety and well-being, and reduce onboard manning levels. At the same time, SCCs will create new, stable career paths and development opportunities for seafarers, especially for those who can bring on-board experience to shoreside operations.

Attracting and retaining seafarers

The general shortage of skilled labour is especially felt in the maritime industry, which is faced with significant challenges attracting and retaining qualified seafarers. This is in part owing to the long time periods spent away from home. Based on the survey, the following strategies could help make seafaring a more attractive and sustainable career choice.

Skill gaps

With increasing on-board system integration and intensifying ship-to-shore communication, cybersecurity training should be made mandatory to help crew members recognize and mitigate associated risks. Working with other emerging technologies such as remote and autonomous operation will likewise require specific training, including operating and maintaining remotely controlled and autonomous ships and drones. In terms of new fuels, 87% of respondents (with 91% being deck and engine officers) expressed a need for partial or full training, with a strong preference for in-person training at maritime training centres or academies.

Consequences for seafarer training and development – recommendations

The study recommends that key stakeholders – the IMO, Flag States, shipowners, operators and managers, and training academies – address the skill gaps revealed in the study during the current decade to ensure thorough and timely education of seafarers. Training programmes should impart the skills needed to operate ships competently in the digital age, and familiarize them with alternative energy technologies, including fuel-specific firefighting techniques. LNG and batteries are key technologies of interest for the near future. Senior officers should be trained first so they can provide on-the-job guidance on new technologies and fuels. Training may include virtual reality and simulators.

The Future of Seafarers: A study into the challenges and opportunities


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