Helsinki seminar hears from seafarers and experts on maritime recruitment crisis

November 29, 2023
Simon Intro
ISWAN's Chief Executive Simon Grainge welcoming guests to the ISWAN 2023 Seminar © Finnish Seamen's Service

On 16th November, ISWAN hosted its annual seminar in Helsinki in partnership with the Finnish Seamen’s Service, with the theme: ‘Addressing the maritime recruitment crisis: Seafarer wellbeing in a changing world’.

Representatives of stakeholders from across the maritime sector – including shipping and ship management companies, unions, P&I clubs and welfare organisations – came together at the Scandic Marina Congress Center to hear both experts and seafarers themselves share their knowledge and insights on how the sector needs to address the recruitment and retention gap whilst ensuring seafarers’ welfare is a priority.

The seminar was opened by Tiina Tuurnala, CEO of the Finnish Shipowners' Association. The first panel of the day was formed solely of seafarers, who shared what they saw as the key challenges and ideal solutions to the recruitment and retention crisis, laying the foundations for the rest of the seminar. They spoke about how there is still much to love about seafaring as a profession but there is a great deal that companies can do to make working at sea an attractive and sustainable option for a wider group of prospective seafarers.

Session 1's panel of seafarers (from left to right): Capt. Steve Oertel (MF Shipping Group); Tommy Björklund (Neste); Mika Behm (Eckerö); Suneeti Bala (Former Chief Engineer / International Women Seafarer's Foundation); Jason Zuidema (panel host - NAMMA, ICMA) © Finnish Seamen's Service

The second session focused on ‘Fair work’, with speakers followed by a panel exploring practical solutions for the maritime sector to bridge the gap between current working conditions and seafarers’ aspirations. Attendees heard about the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) Flags of Convenience Campaign and insights from the first two years of the Sustainable Shipping Initiative’s Code of Conduct. Maritime recruitment marketplace TURTLE highlighted the benefits of innovative digital solutions for crewing, and the World Maritime University shared the conclusions and ways forward from its recent research into the effects of COVID-19 into seafarer retention. The panel discussed that the industry needs to achieve parity between shore and sea in terms of salary, entitlements, rights and support, and issues with contract length and hours of work and rest need to be addressed.

Session 2's panel (from left to right): Isabelle Rickmers (TURTLE); Maria Carrera Arce (World Maritime University); Andrew Stephens (Sustainable Shipping Initiative); Sadie Saunders (International Transport Workers' Federation); Charles Boyle (panel host - Nautilus International) © Finnish Seamen's Service

In the third session of the day on ‘Inclusive culture’, experts discussed how the maritime sector can provide a safer and more inclusive environment for all seafarers. Attendees heard about Maersk’s Cultural Transformation and the Global Maritime Forum’s Diversity at Sea pilot. The co-founders of spoke about the benefits of neurodiversity and the importance of inclusivity, and seminar attendees heard from King’s College London about how the future of remotely operated ships can be made inclusive. The panel raised the point that training and targets are not necessarily the solution to bringing about lasting structural and behavioural change – the industry needs to commit to building environments that are psychologically safe so that people can truly be themselves at work.

Speaker Susanne Justesen - Project Director, Human Sustainability, Global Maritime Forum © Finnish Seamen's Service
Session 3's panel (from left to right): Susanne Justesen (Global Maritime Forum); Dr. Caitlin Bentley (King's College London); Sofie Trier Jensen (Maersk); Daniel Smith (; Karen Waltham (panel host - HR Director/Independent People Management Consultant) © Finnish Seamen's Service

In the final session of the day, a panel discussed the impact of changing technologies within the maritime sector on seafarers’ wellbeing. ISWAN’s recent research on the impact of decarbonisation technologies on seafarers points to the negative impact on workload and stress levels, which is exacerbated by the lack of standardised regulations. The panel emphasised the importance of including seafarers in a more meaningful way in decision-making and discussions about how technology can enhance their lives, including understanding and adapting to the different learning needs of different groups of seafarers.

Session 4's panel (from left to right): Rob Parkin (BazePort); Dr. Christos Kontovas (Liverpool John Moores University); Catherine Logie (Ocean Technologies Group); Chirag Bahri (ISWAN); Sue Henney (panel host - IDWAL Marine) © Finnish Seamen's Service

Key messages from the seminar included the importance of listening to seafarers and turning what they tell us into practical actions; understanding that the challenges driving the recruitment and retention crisis cannot be generalised across industries, ranks and demographics; and the need to make structural changes to address the root causes of the recruitment and retention crisis and ensure that seafaring is a safe and rewarding profession for all prospective seafarers.

ISWAN will be producing a short paper with key outcomes from the seminar to continue developing the debates which took place – this will be published in December.

ISWAN is grateful to everyone who sponsored, supported and participated in the ISWAN 2023 Seminar. The event was hosted by the Finnish Seamen’s Service and sponsored by: Gold Sponsor Roll Group; Silver Sponsors Bahri, Isle of Man Ship Registry and Nautilus International; Bronze Sponsors BazePort, Emarat Maritime, GENCO, Haque & Sons, International Chamber of Shipping, London P&I Club, NorthStandard, Scorpio Group and Seafarers’ Pension Fund (Merimieseläkekassa); Dinner Sponsor UK P&I Club and Travel Sponsor ATPI.

The ISWAN team at the end of the seminar © Finnish Seamen's Service
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