ECONOMY

Sailor shortage growing

Greek shipping may be the world’s leader but it gets little or no coverage in the country’s media – unless there is a maritime accident. This global supremacy is enormously significant, as 97 percent of the world’s trade is carried at low costs by ships: In 2005 it accounted for 6.6 billion tons of goods with a freight rate turnover of $380 billion. Most seamen come from Asian states, and this is a solution for maritime countries like Greece, who find their nationals to be less and less interested in sea-based professions. The European Union has drawn up extensive studies on attracting and training young people in the profession of merchant marine officer, stressing that experience is shifting from the European countries to Asia. A European Commission statement to the European Council and the Parliament said that over the last couple of decades there has been a sharp decline in finding well-trained seamen, particularly officers. A recent study has shown a worldwide shortage of officers (some 16,000 fewer officers than required) and that this shortage will reach 12 percent (46,000 officers) by 2010. Among other European Union states the problem is more acute: There was a shortage of 13,000 officers in 2001 and this shortfall is expected to rise to 36,000 officers this year. The Commission further notes that the shortage of officers will grow unless corrective measures are immediately taken. It is a reminder that low-ranking seamen can also become officers with the appropriate training. Member states and social partners should keep this in mind when planning how to stop the decline in the numbers of seamen in the EU, and particularly officers. The shortage of officers in the EU could have negative repercussions across the whole spectrum of associated sectors: There is a broad number of onshore activities where experience at sea is an advantage or a even prerequisite for people to be hired. Ports, shipping companies, monitoring organizations, insurance companies, shipyards, and maritime equipment constructors prefer, or are obliged, to hire former seamen. For reasons related to general education, language and knowledge of local or national customs and regulations, positions in those companies are not easily taken by non-Europeans. It is therefore obvious that the growing shortage in seamen in the EU will, in the long run, lead to staff shortages in activities related to shipping. The know-how and the experience which EU seamen have obtained at sea should be maintained for the EU not to lose all its shipping sector. The impact would then be that schools for maritime professions may close down and shipping know-how could vanish entirely, with dramatic effects on the safety of shipping and supply and the overall competitiveness of the sector. Unfortunately, such considerations do not move this country, as shipping does not supply easy ground for party bickering, so it has been left out of the local political system’s pattern of client relations. Consequently, the EU recommendations and similar studies by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are left forgotten in the Merchant Marine Ministry archives, while the approximately 4,000 Greek-owned ships are hosted by as many as 100 different country registers and only one in six has raised the Greek flag. The country’s seamen, numbering 40,000 and including 10,000 officers, are steadily declining in numbers, the naval education system that is strictly state-run is constantly being «upgraded» and «lifted to university level» according to the union interests of a dynamic portion of teaching staff, and produces «graduates,» only a portion of whom follow a sea career. How many these are we do not know, as the ministry does not reveal their number.