For a safer and better future in seafaring

10 Jan 2023

The seafaring profession is currently amidst an era of changes and challenges for the near future. There are some main asks from the people working at sea, and some are directly connected with the pillars of this project.

The shipping industry needs more diversity and inclusion, decent working conditions, and more robust career prospects with meaning and value. Those working in this field are responsible for making this profession more attractive. It cannot happen without improving the daily living and working conditions on board. This is the only way to attract more women and young professionals to the industry.

After two years of hard work, we have finally reached the final port of our destination within the WESS project, with the project’s deliverables. But this journey cannot finish here. On the contrary, it can be the starting point to create a legacy built on the deliverables’ findings. We can prove that we can move from planning and making strategies to real action and implementing our strategy and vision. It is precisely what everybody working at sea is expecting from us.

2023 is the Year of Skills in Europe, and the ETF, jointly with its Social Partner ECSA, is planning to undertake joint initiatives and promote our work also for this project together with the SKILL SEA project is underway.

At the WESS project final Conference taking place end of November 2022, two-panel discussions gathered distinguished speakers. The first panel of the WESS final Conference was about enhancing the participation of women in European Shipping.

It is well known that transport is generally male-dominated, but maritime transport notably lacks women workers. The final report mentions that only 2% of officers and 3.5% of ratings available for the EU fleet are female, compared to 22% in transport overall! Currently, only about 2% of seagoing Masters and officers are female.

There were some clear messages in the report and some key findings and concrete proposals:

  • The industry can now prepare to attract women into the future workforce, where jobs require specific technical skills and flexible working patterns in shore-based roles. An essential factor included in the report was that, publicly, little is known about the shipping industry, which is under-estimated and undervalued. Shipping is still suffering from ‘sea blindness. A lack of awareness among the public, media, and decision-makers, impacts the maritime sector’s ability to, for example, attract talent into seafaring.
  • Training and current curricula of the Maritime Training Institutes should be accordingly adapted to the current needs and to prepare the seafarer of tomorrow firstly will prepare women for maritime roles and for men to help them accept women in maritime roles and leadership positions.
  • The role of social dialogue and collective bargaining is crucial in promoting the role of women in the maritime industry, in supporting life-long learning, work-life balance, and tackling the gender pay gap, for instance.
  • Strengthening social dialogue at all levels is essential in promoting gender diversity and equality and fighting gender stereotypes and gender discrimination. The Social Partners can build and work further on that. 2023 is the Year of Skills in Europe, and jointly with our Social Partner can undertake joint initiatives and promote our work in the two main Pillars of the project.

Other points could also be highlighted from the 1st-panel discussion and debate:

  • Importance of modernizing STCW
  • Need for cultural arrangements in the countries which provide crews. Women from 3rd countries opened the road on that.
  • To bring gender issues, mental health, harassment, and violence at the place of work in STCW and MLC.
  • The need for internet connectivity
  • The lack of adequate equipment and sizes for women seafarers and sanitary facilities for them
  • The need for more male leaders to champion and defend diversity
  • To fix the system to provide equal access
  • Collaborate more as partners
  • To be practical and collect best practices that already exist and work efficiently.
  • To collect the correct data.
  • To recognize what has been done and what needs to be tackled and best use the existing structures.

The second part of the final Conference was about investigating the increased use of digitalization on board and possible benefits and improvements to shipboard Safety and Welfare.

The final report includes significant findings (including on remote inspections to be performed only when physical inspections are not possible) and highlights:

  • The potential risks of dependence and over-reliance on digital tools, increased workload and fatigue and its adverse effects on crews.
  • It also highlights the need for better training and the development of the appropriate skills, so seafarers feel confident and qualified to operate the new digital tools.
  • Updated training is needed to re-skill and up-skill the crew with digital skills.
  • It is also essential to take care of how to include most effectively the more aged seafarers that they should not leave behind with those new needs and skills and
  • The report must also highlight the need for special attention to user-friendly digital tools and adequate familiarizing training.

 The following points could also be highlighted from the 2nd-panel discussion and debate:

  • Fundamental changes are underway, and we should recognize the risks and the opportunities
  • Need for a holistic approach to training
  • Need for smart strategies in a new era of training
  • Digital solutions are running too fast and should be adjusted with the needed changes in the legislative framework on time.
  • Digital solutions are more attractive to the young generations, and special attention is to the aged seafarers not being left behind.