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Thu 1 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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Tackling the training shortfall

The Middle East has a growing requirement for people with seafaring expertise to fill a wide range of jobs in the maritime-related sector of the economy.

The Middle East has a growing requirement for people with seafaring expertise to fill a wide range of jobs in the maritime-related sector of the economy. The pool of seagoing ships’ officers has now reached the level where demand for such officers cannot be satisfied by shopping in the global talent pool alone.

In this issue, in we meet with Sharad Kumar, service and training manager of Unique System in Sharjah, who manages the bridge training schemes that have witnessed an unprecedented take-up in the last three years.

Although regional attitudes to training are changing, over 83% of respondents to last month’s Sea Freight Middle East survey agreed that more needs to be done to overcome this shortfall, and attract talented local graduates into the business. Trainees from Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have begun certified training courses, but a reliance on the international pool of seafarers is still inevitable.

The implications are already having a drastic effect on crewing costs, and in the short-medium term, the problem looks set to worsen. The implications of this for the region’s shippers are self-evident, and concerns have now spread to the hull insurance market.

“The most significant development in 2006, in terms of insurance, has been the crewing of LNG vessels and the lack of expertise. A huge number of LNG ships have been built recently, and most on

order for the Middle East market,” says Simon Stonehouse, marine hull underwriter at Brit Insurance. “To master an LNG vessel the captain needs certain capabilities – and they’ve built so many

of these ships recently that there is a huge shortfall in the number of suitably qualified crew to work them safely.” observes Stonehouse.

Crewing costs for an average LNG master these days, because the demand for their skills is so high, have reached upwards of US$25,000 a month, and that’s a fairly accurate reflection of the scale of the deficit across the sector.

The situation in the petrochemical sector is acute but far from unique. The scarcity is also beginning to bite in the cargo, Ro-Ro and bulk shipping sectors, at a time when TEU traffic and project cargo needs are at an all time high in the region.

An industry-wide strategy for improving the maritime skills base is greatly needed, and Middle Eastern companies should look beyond their own immediate needs in order to tackle the issue before the situation deteriorates further. It is inevitable that the short term strategy will ultimately fail the industry in the long run, and concerted efforts need to be made if an adequate skills base is to be built.

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