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Seafarer training and recruitment

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Seafarer training and recruitment

To advocate a certain number of urgent activities which, when duly carried out by the Member States and both sides of industry, could redress the current situation whereby there is a lack of Community seafarers.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 6 April 2001 on seafarer training and recruitment.


The total number of EU nationals employed on board ships flying the Community flag is currently 120 000, down by 40% as compared with 1985, whereas the number of nationals of non-member countries employed on board EU ships has risen from 29 000 in 1983 to 34 500 today. It is felt that the scarcity of officers within the EU could reach 13 000 posts in 2001 and 36 000 in 2006, a situation made yet worse by the problem of officer ageing.

Several sociological and financial factors explain the lack of attraction of this profession for young Europeans. Between 1992 and 1999 the monthly average salary for qualified seafarers fell by 53% for the Germans, 51% for the Belgians, 49% for the Dutch and 26% for the Portuguese and 14% for the French. Separation from their families and friends is less and less accepted by potential young recruits and the scope for visiting exotic places has disappeared since ships only make short calls or indeed remain outside the port for their commercial operations. Thus the drop-out rate during training at sea lies between 22 and 32% and reaches 60 or 70% in certain Member States.

To this is added the fact that; when faced with growing competition from non-member countries several EU shipowners have decided to cut their costs by registering their ships under non-Community flags or under second registers whereas at the same time they replace their Community seafarers by cheaper third-country labour.

This growing shortage of seafarers could have a dramatic impact. First of all in terms of safety, since 80% of accidents are due to human error, and that third-country staff are in general terms less well trained than Community staff. Then, for a whole series of activities linked with transport (ports, maritime-shipping companies, inspection bodies, insurance companies) which could face recruitment difficulties in that experience in sea-faring matters is an advantage or a prerequisite for job applicants.

It is not a matter of the Commission's envisaging new legal acts, but rather of ensuring that existing laws or laws in the process of adoption are applied correctly. Sole exception: a legal act concerning ships abandoned in the Community ports. It would be a matter of permitting ports to sell on such ships and to apply the law concerning company transfers and collective dismissals.

The Commission hopes that all of the operators in this sector will combine their efforts and take the following urgent action:

Passenger and trans-shipment services

In view of the recent trend towards employing non-Community seafarers in this area (first of all restaurant staff, then officers) the Commission is calling for the adoption of the European legislation under examination, which is intended to ensure equal conditions of employment for Community and non-Community seafarers, and feels that an agreement could be reached by both sides of the industry. That agreement could also include other aspects such as improved training, living and working conditions, mapping out career plans and salary levels.

Public awareness campaign and job promotion

The Commission recommends that coordinated public awareness campaigns be held at both national and European levels in order to improve the brand image of this area among the young. They would have to stress the wide range of job options open to seafarers within widely diverse activities. In parallel to this both sides of industry will have to place more stress on enabling women to work in the seafaring professions.

Living and working conditions

In order to make on-board living and working conditions more attractive the Commission recommends the use of modern information technologies (e-mail for example) which could enable seafarers to keep in touch with their families. It would thus be necessary to contemplate providing computer rooms on board ships and providing seafarers' families with computers. Providing reading, music and video rooms is also a possibility. However, the most important step is to organise appropriate periods of rotation between activities at sea and on land. Finally, the Commission would invite shipowners to study the scope for boosting on-board officers' pay rates in order to attract young persons to the profession.

Education and training

Without calling into question the general competence of the Member States as regards training the Commission would like to draw attention to measures that are likely to improve the system of seafarers' education and training as a whole. It thus proposes, in particular that:

  • training programmes be adapted,
  • national systems be better aligned,
  • resources be concentrated on a restricted number of training institutes,
  • on-board training be improved,
  • retraining and course upgrading be promoted,
  • the requirements applying to the acquisition of various certificates be loosened,
  • certificates of fitness be mutually recognised,
  • officer's posts within the merchant navy be made accessible.

The Commission still feels that setting up a specific Community fund for seafarers' training is not a realistic option and prefers to recommend that the Member States use the scope offered by the existing Community instruments (Socrates and Leonardo programmes).

Support for the research programme

The Commission mentions a number of research areas which could be tackled in the future sixth framework programme:

  • drawing up a profile of suitable applicants in order to improve the selection of students at naval colleges and to reduce the drop-out rate
  • the factors prompting the choice to work at sea or on land
  • types of job and career development
  • improving on-board living and working conditions and more particularly the scope for communication between crew members and their families
  • the scope for bring national education and training systems closer together, and possible concentration on a smaller number of institutes.

Last updated: 24.01.2007