Seafarer wage rates are set to accelerate in the face of worsening officer supply/demand imbalance. Sustained fleet growth will lead to the highest shortfall of officers to crew the world’s merchant fleet in over a decade by 2027, according to Drewry’s latest Manning Annual Review and Forecast report.

The current officer supply shortfall is estimated to equate to around five per cent of the global pool, which is broadly manageable in practical terms for vessel operators. But there is heightened risk with regard to the Russia/Ukraine conflict potentially further limiting the supply of a large number of officers.

Looking ahead to 2027 the supply/demand gap is expected to widen to a deficit equating to over eight per cent of the global officer pool. This will also have important implications for both hiring and future manning cost inflation.

The increased shortage is despite a slight anticipated uptick in the rate of growth in supply as training rates increase now that Covid restrictions are much less significant. While ratings supply has also been slowing, this poses less concern to employers as it remains broadly elastic to increases in demand as the global fleet expands.

Also read: BIMCO & ICS: Serious officer shortage looms

Quality officers first pressure point

‘Recruiting and retaining quality officers with experience on sophisticated vessel types is likely to be the first pressure point in a tightening supply pool,’ says Drewry’s head of manning research Rhett Harris. ‘Employers need to ensure that a career at sea is an attractive career option for ambitious and well-educated people.’

Changes in seafarer supply (2012-17 Vs 2017-22, % CAGR) (source: Drewry’s Manning Annual Review and Forecast 2022/23).

Also read: Shortage of maritime officers to reach decade high by 2026

Inflation accelerates manning costs

Worldwide consumer price inflation is forecast to be over seven per cent in 2022 before falling back to around three per cent for the forecast period to 2027. In the face of this, seafarer wage rates are expected to increase by around 2.5 per cent each year, in average terms, from around 1.5 per cent in 2022. There will however, be increased volatility by rank, nationality and vessel type outside of these averages.

‘Accelerating manning costs are being driven by inflationary macroeconomic pressures and rising officer shortfall,’ adds Harris. ‘Together with higher insurance and supply chain costs, these pressures will further fuel higher vessel operating costs over the medium term.’