The Future Shortage of Seafarers: Will it become Reality?

Heather McLaughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


There is in the contemporary shipping industry a presumption of an impending
shortage of seafarers, specifically officers. This paper questions as to whether such
a shortage will in fact occur through an analysis of the current and potential manning
levels and seaborne trade forecasts. It begins with an analysis of the supply
position followed by estimates of seafarer demand. It further considers the regional
trends and divisions between senior officers, junior officers and ratings, and measures
to improve the recruitment in the traditional maritime areas.
The BIMCO/ISF Manpower Update estimates the worldwide supply of seafarers
at 1 227 000, comprising 404 000 officers and 823 000 ratings [1], with the majority
originating from a comparatively small number of countries. Over recent decades,
changes in economic and commercial activities have been fundamental in the restructuring
of the international seafaring labour force. This has been combined with
changes in the structure of seafarer employment. At its simplest there has been a
relentless decline in the number of seafarers coming from developed countries, due to
an appreciable reduction in recruitment and retention. Thus the age structure of this
group has become progressively older. The lack of suitable seafarers from developed
countries, coupled with a desire to reduce labour unit costs, has created an increasing
demand for seafarers from developing countries. These are the main elements which
have gradually created a remarkable new concept, that of the seafarer labour-supply
country, the majority of which having what can be termed no maritime tradition.
Initially the vast majority of these seafarers from these countries were ratings, but
they are now supplying a growing number of officers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-13
Number of pages11
JournalMaritime Policy and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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