A decade of transformation for seafarers

Study finds decarbonisation will have a more significant impact on seafarers than digitalisation

By Cristina Saenz de Santa Maria

With 90% of all goods worldwide transported by sea, we know that seafarers play a critical role in the maritime industry and therefore contribute directly to the smooth functioning of global trade. But with major advances in decarbonisation, sustainability, and technology, how can we make sure that seafarers are up to speed to cope with this expected dramatic shift?

When the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) commissioned DNV to undertake ‘The future of Seafarers 2030: A decade of transformation’ study, we were aware of the need to identify and understand the key drivers of change in the maritime industry – decarbonisation and digitalisation.

From this study, we have come to realise that decarbonisation will have a more significant impact than digitalisation due to ongoing and upcoming local and global emission regulations, such as the Carbon Intensity Indicator, Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index, and Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan Part III.

These are expected to significantly impact all ship management, operations and designs, so shipowners and operators must use recent technologies and alternative fuels to meet compliance standards. The study confirmed that decarbonisation will primarily come from new fuel technologies, which require additional training and skills for seafarers.

While getting to grips with the twin demands of digitalisation and decarbonisation, DNV’s study found that over 81% of respondents require partial or complete training to deal with advanced digital technologies, including automation of equipment/ systems, advanced sensors, artificial intelligence and remote operations.

It’s becoming apparent that seafarers must also be knowledgeable about advanced analytics and digital twins to optimise ship performance and plan for maintenance.

Cybersecurity training should be mandatory to help crew recognise and mitigate risks online. Remote and autonomous operations are also upcoming training areas, including operating and maintaining remotely controlled and autonomous ships and drones.

Shore control

When looking at the role played by advances in communication technolo- gies and increased connectivity infra- structure, the study also showed that this will make Shore Control Centres (SCC) more viable and more prevalent in the future. While this may result in a reduction of on board crewing levels, seafarers stand to benefit from im- proved workflow and enhanced safety and well-being, as well as a stable and secure alternative to the traditional seafaring lifestyle.

The study also revealed that only 40% of respondents have served on ships fuelled by LNG, batteries, or synthetic fuels. This highlighted the significant skills gap that exists in the handling of emerging fuels such as ammonia, methanol and hydrogen, emphasising the need for comprehensive training for seafarers.

How seafarers are trained was also addressed in this study, noting that seafaring has long been an industry where skills from more technically proficient individuals (chief engineers) are handed down to less experienced crew members through on-the-job training.

So, what needs to change? 95% of respondents suggested that on board mentoring (from senior crew members) and on-the-job training would be essential in up-skilling seafarers for new technologies and fuels, while 55% of respondents indicated that senior crew members are either partially or insufficiently equipped to train and mentor seafaring staff on board.

Chief engineers and chief officers should be trained first on new technologies and fuels so that they can mentor and provide on-the-job training for junior crew members, while junior crew members could supplement on board training with virtual reality systems and simulators.

Overall, we see this as a valuable study which can be drawn on not just for Singapore but for the global maritime industry, where workforce issues are becoming increasingly apparent and must be urgently addressed.

DNV’s research for this study called on a comprehensive methodology, combining a literature review, expert consultations and a survey of over 500 seafarers, including seasoned professionals, with 70% having over 11 years in the industry and the majority holding officer ranks. To learn more about the findings from the study, ‘The future of Seafarers 2030: A decade of transformation’, visit: The future of Seafarers 2030: A decade of transformation – DNV. Cristina Saenz de Santa Maria is regional manager for South East Asia, Pacific & India, Maritime at DNV.