Tomorrow’s seafarer STCW suitability and future competence challenges | Nautical Institute Cyprus

Tomorrow’s seafarer STCW suitability and future competence challenges

The Nautical Institute Cyprus Branch, with the generous support of one of the NI Affiliate Partners, Intership Navigation, who also offered their excellent premises, and the partial sponsorship of OneLearn, hosted its first hybrid event after over 18 months for members and friends of the Cyprus Branch on 10.11.2021 in Limassol.  

The speakers included Mr Alexandros Josephides, Deputy Director-General – Cyprus Shipping Chamber, Dr Vangelis Tsioumas Research Manager – Eugenides Foundation, Dr Louis Nisiotis – Zebra Consultants Ltd and Mr Charles Watkins – Mental Health Solutions.
Dr Tsioumas from the Eugenides Foundation shared the insights from the 4-year, EU funded SKILLSEA (ERASMUS+) project which aims to ensure that Europe’s maritime professionals possess key digital, green and soft management skills for the rapidly-changing maritime labour market. The project seeks to not only produce a sustainable skills strategy but also to increase the number of these professionals – enhancing the safety and efficiency of the vital maritime sector.  Data were obtained from multiple maritime sources, identifying skill gaps according to seafarers themselves and other stakeholders in the industry. It was interesting that the survey carried out over a period of 3 months validated what is already known that the maritime industry required very high skills from maritime professionals on board. Whilst seafarers actually acknowledged that their MET education helped them build skills that meet their current job requirements (45.9%) – or even exceed them (12.2%),  an almost equal figure responded that their educational training did not meet requirements to execute their responsibilities. Dr Tsioumas rounded up his delivery from the survey results concluding that “employability in shipping cannot be deemed as a static concept. Significant trends, such as digitalization and sustainability, induce changes in the mix of skills and competencies required from maritime professionals on board and ashore. The emerging assessment from the employers’ survey was that a significant percentage of the knowledge and skills acquired through maritime education and training is currently outdated. As the pace of change accelerates –the impact of the pandemic on industry processes – this lag may turn into an ever-increasing gap.”

Alexandros Josephides, Deputy Director-General, Cyprus Shipping Chamber and Honorary Member of the NI Cyprus Branch, addressed the question of where the problems lay; Industry, Academy or Government/Regulators. An outline was provided of why a fully comprehensive review is necessary and the benefits attached. These findings are supported by a majority of the IMO Member States and international organizations. There have been delays since 2020 due to Covid, and the STCW changes could take effect as far away as 2027.  Naturally, there are growing concerns based on shipowners’ and operators’ feedback that STCW Convention and Code could no longer be fit for purpose and that the revision should be considered by IMO as a matter of utmost priority. The most obvious reasons for immediate revisions are the ongoing technological and digitalisation trends, vessel and onboard equipment evolution, environmental challenges each affecting new seafarer competency. Revalidation should also be considered as has been demonstrated by the struggles of pandemics and other global force majeure and what provisions could be identified to ensure endorsements, certification validity extensions or other exceptional circumstances to overcome and continuous adaptation.

Dr Charles Watkins, an expert and Licensed Psychotherapist provided feedback on the issues affecting seafarers by way of conflict resolution and health + mental wellbeing especially critically more so now than ever before. Dr  Watkins identified the need for companies and organisations to be better trained or to provide dedicated services in areas such as crisis support, on-site attendance, psychological testing highlighting specific examples such as onboard death by suicide, overdue repatriation in consequence of the crew change crisis. He stated that many seafarers are unfamiliar or embarrassed to share their feelings about their health and mental wellbeing with other seafarers. The industry needs to be aware and supportive of seafarers when it comes to mental health. Seafaring is a challenging profession; physical and mental stress, if not addressed may ultimately impair their on-the-job decision making, having a direct impact on the safety of their co-seafarers, vessel and cargo. Equally affected are shoreside teams who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic – with irregular working patterns and long working hours. Dr Watkins encouraged ship operators and other industry organisations to take a step back to seriously reassess the true importance of the human element and their ultimate wellbeing.

Dr Nisiotis shared his insights on e-Mentoring, online teaching, virtual reality, augmented reality, extended reality training and IoT for seafarers and the rapid technological advances. Dr Nisiotis identified the fact that technology will for sure continue to develop and that reality-based training provided seafarers with a safe environment for training purposes and experienced seafarers the opportunity to upskill. The difference between the types of learning opportunities was explained; computer-generated 3D environment, digitalised elements, a combination of both virtual and real-world, as well as the benefits including creating better engagement, precision in executing specific onboard tasks (affecting safety for example), becoming more adept and thus reducing risk and attracting new talent into the maritime arena whereas the younger generation would see shipping as a more viable career choice.  Not having a hand-held device or electronic equipment in hand, a career in shipping for younger individuals could be seen as a deterrent. It was apparent that the future technologies’ benefits were being seen as more sustainable, financially favourable, safer, more accessible methods of training as opposed to the traditional methods and concepts like gamification were identified as possibly being new benchmarks in training needs to fill seafaring positions.

There were two current seafarers on the panel: Captain Klaudia Skotnica and Ms Andromachi Demetriou. Capt. Skotnica having travelled to vessels under her responsibility during the pandemic and listening to her crews onboard reiterated concerns for shorter contract periods and better repatriation opportunities. She raised concerns on the potential shortage of crew in the future as experience during the pandemic showed that some crew who had negative experience onboard during the pandemic would, once repatriated, seek employment outside the industry ashore to remain closer to their families resulting in a shortage.

Andromachi Demetriou shared her experience having been “stuck onboard” during the pandemic without pay, lack of contact with family and months of delay to be repatriated and only after intervention by the Embassy and Government officials was she able to return home safely. She concurred with Dr Nisiotis that new learning technologies, as well as the results of the survey executed under the SKILLSEA EU project in terms of MET education, would help. She also stated that it was her passion and love for the industry that she would return on board even during the continuing pandemic, hopefully on shorter contract periods. 

The presentations were followed by an engaging Q&A session, and a networking drinks and snacks arrangement.