Queries have been raised with Shipping Australia as to whether or not there is a shortage of seafarers on the Australian ocean shipping trades because of the tragic conflict in Ukraine.
Shipping Australia has not received reports from its members that there is a shortage of crew because of the crisis in Ukraine.
Such concerns currently appear to be unsupported by evidence.
Given that Russia invaded Ukraine in late February this year, if there was going to be a crew shortage for vessels calling at Australian ports, then evidence of a crew shortage on the Australian trades would by now – some three-and-a-half months after the date of the invasion of Ukraine – have likely manifested.
Bear in mind that it is possible that there could crew shortages elsewhere in the world (note: we’re not saying that there are crew shortages elsewhere, just that it is possible that there could be). There have certainly been reports in the global maritime trade media of a tightness in seafarer supply but that’s not necessarily the same thing as a shortage.
There was a big point of contention at an industry panel discussing the seafarer workforce during a major international shipping conference that was held a few days ago in Greece. Panellists could not even agree whether or not there was a shortage of seafarers because of the situation in Ukraine.
Remember too that situations involving armed conflict are inherently prone to change and the situation could be different in the future.
But, to the best of our knowledge and belief, right now, there does not appear to be any major shortage of crew to sail cargo ships to / from Australia.
Further support: the Neptune Indicator
Shipping Australia notes that there were reasonable concerns expressed back in early March by various well-known bodies that there could be a shortage of seafarers because of this conflict.
A recent edition of the Neptune Crew Change Indicator provides some up-to-date evidence. The Indicator shows how many seafarers have been required to stay aboard longer than their originally-contracted time. The May 2022 Neptune Indicator states: “the May Indicator shows that the number of seafarers onboard vessels beyond the expiry of their contract has slightly increased from 4.2% to 4.5% in the last month. The number of seafarers onboard for over 11 months has gone down to 0.3%. These latest numbers suggest a further stabilization of the situation”.
By way of comparison, Shipping Australia notes that, in August 2021, the amount of seafarers who were still aboard a ship beyond their original contract-expiry date was 9.0%.
As the Neptune Indicator then declares: “the May Crew Change Indicator records a tiny increase in seafarers onboard vessels beyond their contract expiry since April but overall does not indicate that the fears of a re-escalation of the crew change crisis due to the war in Ukraine have been fulfilled.”
Seafaring workforce: seafarer numbers
The total seafaring workforce is about 1.89 million strong.
Ukrainians accounted for about 76,442 (4%) of all seafarers last year, of which 47,058 were officers and 29,383 were ratings (i.e. skilled maritime personnel who are not officers), according to the International Chamber of Shipping. It was also reported by the ICS that, last year, 198,123 (10.5%) of seafarers were Russian, of which 71,652 were officers and 126,471 were ratings.
So if Ukrainians and Russians make up such a large part of the world’s seafaring workforce, why then do we not currently appear to be experiencing a severe and large crew shortage?
Although there are large numbers of Ukrainian and Russian seafarers in the global seafaring workforce, it does not automatically follow that every single seafarer will immediately quit his or her seafaring role and travel back to Ukraine or Russia to fight.
Some seafarers might not be eligible to fight e.g. seafarers over age 60. Or there could be seafarers who are financially supporting their families back home and so they choose to continue working. There could be many conscientious objectors to the war. There could be many reasons why seafarers who have Ukrainian or Russian nationality choose to continue working at sea.
Do you want to help those in need?
The tragic situation in Ukraine is causing extreme hardship to seafarers around the world. The Seafarers International Relief Fund has launched an appeal to the maritime industry to support seafarers and their families. The Fund is managed by The Seafarers’ Charity.
The Fund is addressing basic human welfare needs – shelter, food, water, transport, access to medical services and practical help.
The International Chamber of Shipping has provided information on the Fund and the Seafarers’ Charity here.
Do you want to make a donation straightaway? You can donate to the Seafarers’ Charity here.