More training and tech acceptance needed

DNV study finds that seafarers feel underprepared for the changes happening in the industry

By Carly Fields

A pressing need for training in new fuels and technology; embracing new technology; and the use of sustainability and technology as talent recruitment and retention tools – these key strands will prepare future seafarers for tackling the challenges posed by decarbonisation and digitalisation, according to a study.

The Future of Seafarers 2030: A Decade of Transformation, a study undertaken by DNV and co-sponsored by the Singapore Maritime Foundation, examined the drivers transforming the maritime industry and their impact on sea-going professionals in the lead-up to 2030.

Through a combination of literature review, expert consultations, and a survey of more than 500 seafarers, the study found that both officers and ratings strongly indicated a pressing need for training in new fuels and technology.

A total of 81% of respondents indicated that they require either partial or complete training in dealing with advanced digital technologies (such as further automation of equipment/ systems, advanced sensors, artificial intelligence and remote operations); only 13% agreed that they were well trained.

Two-thirds of seafaring officers said more advanced technology on board would make their job easier. However, only 40% of seafaring officers thought that shore-based remote-control centres, which can remotely operate some or all functions, would make their onboard job easier.

“Emerging fuels and new technologies could pose safety risks for assets and crews, if not handled properly. Therefore, we must focus on the human factor and adequately train seafarers who operate and maintain ship systems, including carrying out bunkering operations. As an industry, we have a responsibility to keep them safe and well prepared for all eventualities,” said Cristina Saenz de Santa Maria, regional manager South-East Asia, Pacific & India at DNV Maritime.

Addressing retention challenges, 55% of respondents indicated that new developments in fuels, automation and digitalisation on board ships could assist in attracting new seafarers to a career at sea and retaining existing seafarers.

Key recommendations

The study proposed several recommendations to address its findings. Firstly, key stakeholders such as regulatory bodies, shipowners/operators/managers and training academies should carefully assess and target the skill deficits in digitalisation and decarbonisation in the current decade to ensure seafarers have the necessary skills in place when they are needed in the future. Secondly, the industry should use a future seafarer training model where maritime training academies focus on delivering basic/ generalised shipboard skills while ship operators focus on delivering fuel-specific and vessel-specific training.

Thirdly, shipowners/operators/ managers and training academies must ensure that the best-placed seafarers based on position, experience and availability are trained at the right time to ensure continuity of operations and knowledge and skills transfer. This may result in senior officers being trained on new technologies and fuels first to enable an effective mentoring and on[1]the-job training environment on board.

“As industry transformation – spurred by digital innovation and fuel transition – picks up pace, we must prioritise the training and development of sea-going professionals, ensuring that they possess the technical competencies to safely operate the more advanced ships that are coming on stream. Digitalisation and decarbonisation could present opportunities to attract a younger generation of sea-going professionals, provided a pathway to sustainable career development is visible, transiting from sea-to-shore based careers,” said Tan Beng Tee, executive director of the Singapore Maritime Foundation.

The study also recommends that there is a renewed focus on the development of seafarers’ soft skills and that shipowners/operators/managers closely manage their seafarer progression opportunities from both an attraction[1]retention point of view and an operational capability perspective.

“Shipowners/operators/managers should harness seafarers’ unique and desirable skill sets and provide them with opportunities for complementary shore-based roles such as vessel control and monitoring facilities (shore control centres), which will likely become more prevalent later in the current decade and beyond,” concluded the report.