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Sun 11 Feb 2007 04:01 PM

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Crew shortage to reach 30,000

Commercial shipping faces a recruitment crisis as experienced officers are poached by the LNG sector.

Commercial shipping is suffering from the worst shortage of qualified crew in living memory, with a possible shortage of 27,000-30,000 officers by 2015 according to recent estimates being discussed at shipping forums around the world.

The shortage is being attributed experienced officers being poached by the booming liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipping sector, and a recruitment crisis at graduate level.

Whilst welfare provisions onboard have been vastly improved in order to make voyages more tolerable for seafarers, the main problem is that young graduates still do not view a career at sea in a favourable light.

The recruitment crisis is particularly acute in the Middle East where the highly educated workforce look to careers on land as preferable both in terms of quality of life, and in potential earnings. "The main reason for this is that it would simply not be as lucrative for many UAE nationals to pursue a career at sea compared to other jobs open to them," said Kalluta Reddy, superintendent at Gulf Energy Maritime.

"We recently advertised opportunities for trainee positions in newspapers and magazines in the region for a course that is salaried, even when the cadets are on campus and studying. Unfortunately we received no replies in the UAE. However, we received a very encouraging response from Omani nationals, so we are actively trying to engage young people in the region, and this is in addition to our programmes overseas," he said.

The worldwide boom in LNG shipping has had a hugely detrimental effect on the shortages already being faced by other commercial shippers. "Experienced crew are now leaving oil and chemical tankers for the LNG business because the money is almost double that of what people are earning on standard tankers," adds Reddy.

The combined effect of a dwindling interest in careers at sea, and the need for experienced crew on LNG vessels will see owners wage bills rising across the commercial sector and continue to drive the operational cost of shipping skywards.

OpCost 2006, an operating cost benchmark tool from UK based chartered accountants Moore Stephens, confirmed that crewing was among the biggest cost increases in the industry last year. The report states that the percentage increase in expenditure on crew costs came in at an average 9.2%. These costs were up for almost all vessel types, and VLCCs recorded one of the highest increases - almost 20% - proving that there remains a premium for experienced, specialist crew.

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