05 November 2020

Who will sail the world's ships?

In Faststream Recruitment’s recent webinar ‘Maritime Employment & Industry Update’, Kelsey Purse, Director of Shipping shared her insights into how the pandemic has impacted the recruitment of Seafarers globally.

You can enjoy the recording, including CEO & Founder of Faststream Recruitment, Mark Charman’s insights into employment in maritime here:


2020 has brought many challenges to the shipping community but arguably one of the most significant impacts of COVID-19 has been that on our Seafarers. The IMO estimates that nearly 400,000 Seafarersfrom around the globe are still stranded on ships and whilst this is an improvement from the peak of the summer months, Ship Managers and Ship Owners still face significant challenges ahead.

So what does the market look like for a qualified and experienced Seafarer today? This is a tale of two halves.

This insight will cover the following information:

Oversupply in key sectors

In 2017 Faststream placed a Captain aboard one of the world’s largest luxury cruise liners. Today this same Captain is working for Waitrose, a luxury British supermarket chain, as a delivery driver. Whilst this is an extreme example, it is also the reality of what we are seeing for many qualified and experienced Seafarers who are not able to transfer their skillset into more buoyant maritime markets. Undisputedly, the Cruise sector has been hardest hit by the pandemic. Thankfully, many candidates have been able to transition into the world of Superyachts and Ferries but there is still a significant oversupply of these candidates. Many still need to find employment outside of the world of shipping as my Cruise candidate working for Waitrose has proven.

Skill shortages in the Tanker sector

On the flip side, we have seen significant spikes in the demand for other sectors, notably the Tanker sector. We see substantial skills shortages too with experienced LNG and LPG Officers being in the most demand.

2nd Engineers and Chief Officer vacancies have been the most critical and are our most requested rank to recruit for within our Seafaring recruitment team. However, this is not a new trend as gas experiences candidates have long been sought after but vacancy numbers have been on the rise in comparison to 2019.

Hiring demand factors

Extended periods at sea and the mass accrual of leave entitlement for Seafarers has increased and is putting pressure on crew rotas. Seafarers do not want to get stuck on board for longer than they are contracted to and they are standing their ground by not voluntarily extending their rotations. Whereas previously they may have been more flexible to cover sickness or their equivalents back to back, there is a hesitancy to do this in the current climate.

To add to this pressure, we have the perennial “Turkey season” effect. One of our clients aptly nicknamed the period between October-December as Christmas is notoriously a tricky time to onboard new starters. Candidates opt to start employment in the new year to guarantee time at home with their family and friends.

Travel restrictions – the impact on hiring

Travel restrictions are influencing how clients are making hiring decisions. Owners and managers in some instances have had no choice but to hire candidates who are ‘in-country’. This has limited the pool of candidates available and those who can physically mobilise to the vessel and onboard.

During the summer, a client in Australia required a resident Australian Master within 24 hours. If that wasn’t challenging enough, they had to be based in Queensland because the country had closed all of its regional borders. Without this critical hire, the ship would not have sailed and incurred significant costs and losses. Thankfully, the stars aligned, and we sourced the right candidate. This is a classic example of our clients needing to fish in a very small pond of candidates.

We saw a strategic shift in the summer where European candidates were in high demand while most of Asia was stuck in severe and strict lockdowns. Now that Europe is in its second wave of COVID-19,I predict that the demand for “in-country” hiring will expand again in the coming months.

Candidate attraction strategies

In the more buoyant shipping markets, Ship Owners and Managers have had to respond rapidly over the last nine months to ensure that they keep the ships sailing. This also means retaining the team that they have as well as attracting new talent to plug the gaps.

Whilst wage levels have remained relatively stable, clients have had to look to more creative ways to attract talent. The biggest shift we have seen is with bonuses. Whether it be a signing on bonus to attract experienced Seafarers from competitors or long tour bonuses to existing employees who agree to stay on board longer.

Clients of ours who historically have never offered this, now are. And if they are not, candidates are looking elsewhere where they can secure these more lucrative offerings.

Seafarer behaviour in the pandemic 

In times of economic uncertainty, candidates will generally do one thing and that is nothing. Bunkering down and weathering the storm is commonplace.  They will then reassess their options once the storm has blown over. We have not seen this happen in buoyant markets such as Superyachts, Tankers and to some extent the Offshore markets. We have not seen a dip in our application numbers representing active candidates in the market.

Passive candidates (those who are happily employed and not on the job hunt) also remain open and responsive to new opportunities. Over 75% of the placements that our Seafaring recruitment team make are from headhunting passive candidates and this is proof that the candidate market remains fluid despite the pandemic.

Job security and confidence in these markets is evident. Faststream is still making as many placements onboard Tankers (actually more) and Superyachts which is evidence that candidates still have the appetite to change jobs in uncertain times. 

Final thoughts

In the world of shipping, some markets are thriving whilst others are just about surviving. There is a significant oversupply of candidates in sectors including cruise and offshore and in others there are significant skill shortages.

Where skill shortages exist, the candidate is king, and this puts pressure on the Ship Owner/Manager to find new ways to become or remain an employer of choice.  

You can also enjoy here the Q & A with Mark Charman and Kelsey Purse from the session. 

Please contact Kelsey Purse to discuss the findings in more detail.

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