With around 800,000 seafarers requiring additional training by the mid-2030s to rise to the challenge of the maritime energy transition, the importance of this training has been stressed by a number of key industry stakeholders at a recent IMarEST and Lloyd’s Register webinar, held to coincide with the annual Day of the Seafarer on 25 June.

Moderated by Andy Franks, LR Decarbonisation Risk Specialist, panellists included Matt Dunlop, Director of Sustainability and Decarbonisation at V Group, John Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Nautical Institute, Stephen Jones, Founder of the Seafarers’ Happiness Index, and Martha Selwyn, Manager of the UN Global Compact.

Around 80% of decarbonisation between now and 2030 will come from energy efficiency measures, Dunlop said, and that has huge implications for seafarers. “That is before we come to upskilling for alternative fuels.”

Selwyn outlined some of the work in progress at the UN Global Compact which has recently completed a study on a ‘just transition. It considered the possible number of seafarers likely to be required under three separate scenarios.

Pointing to the number of seafarers requiring training by the mid-2030s, Selwyn  said: “The seafarer of the future will need to be equipped with a range of new capabilities including digital skills, and science, technology, education, maths (STEM) engineering skills. A clear understanding of green technologies and new fuels will be essential.

Lloyd noted the resilience of the shipping sector. “Maritime is an amazing community… look how it worked through Covid.”

However, he insisted that the sector must collaborate on the best ways in which to design and deliver training to meet the new requirements. He insisted that it’s not possible to put seafarers onboard a ship and then train them.

“We need to accept that seafarers are pretty busy most of the time,” he said. There is simply not enough time in their daily life for them to undertake really important training for a brand new set of challenges.

Jones noted that seafarer feedback on training in the latest quarterly Seafarer Happiness Index had fallen from 8.1 to 7.4. Many had not been treated well during Covid, he pointed out, and were now having new training requirements thrust upon them with little or no consultation. The balance needed to be reset, he insisted.

Without seafarers, there is no shipping, Dunlop asserted. “We need to show our cards. We need to collaborate and share information – to learn from one another and tap into seafarers’ expertise. Do we give them respect? Are they motivated? How is their mental wellbeing? There are about 1.9 million seafarers and they keep the world economy in motion.

Selwyn insisted that seafarers must be seen as a valuable asset, as partners rather than just employees. As Dunlop pointed out, “we’re in a people business – this is the human factor.”

The participants were of one voice in agreeing that the human element in shipping is not getting the attention it needs. However, they were also keen to point out that there are many positive opportunities in the fuel transitioning future.

With the right approach to training which would include land-based resources and substantial investment of time and resources by shipping companies, the seafarers of tomorrow could be very different. A career for life could be based on digital expertise and the STEM skills mentioned by Selwyn.

Lloyd summarised: “All of the people attending this webinar are concerned about this [human element] issue. But we have to reach the ones who aren’t attending or making plans for the future. Mediocrity is not shipping’s business model. There is a huge opportunity for industry leadership to set new standards.” 

Watch the webinar