Officer supply shortage has reached a record high and is not expected to improve, leading to manning cost inflation, global shipping consultancy Drewry warns in its latest report.

Drewry said in its “Manning Annual Review and Forecast report that the 2023 officer availability gap has widened to a deficit equating to about 9% of the global pool, marking a rise from last year’s 5% shortfall, and the highest level since Drewry first started analysing the seafarer market 17 years ago.

The report forecasts similar deficit levels for 2023-2028, based on the limits of new seafarer supply becoming available in the period.

“While these deficit levels are based on vessel numbers together with assumptions on crewing levels and so largely theoretical, they clearly indicate that the seafarer labour market has become particularly tight, with important implications for recruitment and retention as well as manning costs,” Drewry said.

“Employers are seeking alternative sources of supply to fill the gap, and wages have also begun to show more volatility,” said Drewry’s senior manning analyst, Rhett Harris.

Mr. Harris pointed out that “while sectors like containerships and offshore supply vessels have already seen increasing wage rates due to the strength of the sectors, we expect wage cost to accelerate for other vessel types as well”.

The consultancy emphasises also on the effects of Covid-19 which has had a substantial impact on crew training as well as the overall appeal of working at sea.

“The importance of wellbeing has come to the forefront in employee retention,” Drewry notes, and adds that “the trend of looking beyond wage rates is becoming stronger by the day.”

In accordance with Drewry, things like good communication channels with families at home, comfortable facilities onboard and a supportive work environment are gaining importance.

Aside from the Covid-19, the Russia-Ukraine war created further challenges in seafarer supply, with many experienced crews returning home to join the military.

As this war continues, Drewry expects numbers of new seafarers from Russia and Ukraine to be very limited for a while.

“While vessel manning will be challenging over the few next years, especially with regard to officer availability because of these issues, the accelerating growth of the global deep sea vessel fleet will make the situation even more difficult.”