ICS chairman fears training could be cut as shipping revenues fall

With economic uncertainty leading to falling revenues in a number of shipping markets, the head of the International Chamber of Shipping fears that training for mariners could fall victim to budget pressures. Due to ongoing regulatory requirements, mariners also might be expected to pay for more of their training out of pocket.

In a recent speech at the Crew Connect Global Conference in Manila, ICS Chairman Esben Poulsson noted that as the global economy forces the industry to evolve, training for mariners is more important than ever.

In the past several years, mariners have faced new training requirements for electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping. The 2010 STCW Manila Amendments and the U.S. Coast Guard final rules cover approximately 1,044 U.S. commercial vessels operating on ocean or near-coastal voyages. Operators in the U.S. inland waterways face new training requirements under Subchapter M, which covers some 5,920 U.S.-flag towing vessels.

“The future sustainability of the industry requires an evolutionary response to the training and retention of seafarers,” Poulsson said. “We need to do more than simply respond to changing needs; we must learn to anticipate them and thereby control the development of the industry.”

However, in times of economic stress, training is often one of the first budget items to be axed.

“There is always a danger in these circumstances that investment in training can be a victim,” Poulsson said. “Now, perhaps as never before, companies must have an eye to the future and consider that significant growth in shipping could return within the next five years. Employers must recognize that decisions made in these difficult times should not inhibit the future sustainability of the industry. Investment in training and recruitment is an essential part of assuring good industrial health.”

Members of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P) shoulder some of the cost of training and aren’t paid for it during their on-shore time. Klaus Luhta, chief of staff for the union, said the average mariner may spend a month or more per year in training just to stay current.

“A lot of our membership, when they’re not at sea, are spending their time on vacation receiving their advanced certifications and training, and this is just a result of those things that come down from IMO (the International Maritime Organization),” Luhta said. “That’s significant time away from home when a mariner already spends six months or more at sea.”

While members of the MM&P get funding for training based on agreements with employers, non-union mariners may have to fund training themselves or face being noncompliant and unable to work.

With more technology integrated into vessels, from ballast water management systems to emission controls, as well as ongoing regulatory changes, mariners will face an increasing need to stay current.

“At some point something has to let up, but right now the press continues and it’s just a relentless increase in training,” Luhta said. “It’s great for the schools but for the mariners it’s tough.”

By Professional Mariner Staff