ABS chief calls for adequate training of seafarers to cope with digital challenges

The shipping industry has been fairly slow in adopting digitalization, due to its conservative nature. Nevertheless, over the past few years, the pace of digitalization has sped up considerably and especially following the coronavirus pandemic.

As the potential of digitalization is being unlocked, there are numerous issues that should be addressed. A crucial factor in that consideration is the impact of digitalization on the human factor: the driving force of the shipping industry.

 “Shipping’s digital revolution must have its roots in the human factor. Expecting today’s shipboard crews to adopt a digital mindset without the right skills puts them in an untenable position and risks safety for everyone,” ABS Chairman, President and CEO, Christopher J. Wiernicki, said on the occasion of the 10th annual United Nations Day of the Seafarer with a call to give crews the support they need to succeed in the digital era.

The 2020 Day of the Seafarer campaign pays tribute to seafarers, acknowledging their sacrifice and the issues they face.

However, this year the seafarers of the world face an unprecedented challenge as they are unable to carry out crew changes due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

The crisis has seen industry bodies and shipowners urge for the designation of seafarers as key-workers and exempting them from the said restrictions in order for mariners to return to their homes.

Despite some port states and governments being able to push crew repatriation forward in line with the IMO protocols, a systemic and comprehensive solution is yet to be found as many countries are still reluctant to address the issue.

“As a whole, our industry still tends to view crews with a 20th-century mindset and to approach their challenges with 20th-century attitudes, while at the same time saddling them with the burdens and responsibilities of 21st-century technologies,” said Wiernicki.

“We can — and should — do better as we apply digital technologies to drive safety and efficiency; we must also deliver a step-change improvement in the quality of life at sea and careers opportunities for shipboard crews.

“Digitalization is often called “the key driver of Industry 4.0”, but it is not. The key driver of Industry 4.0 is the development and dissemination of digital skills and qualifications among the labor pool. “

As explained, this is a challenge, as seafarers are typically sourced from developing countries where digital penetration is low.

“As we build out the technology of Industry 4.0, we must always check our progress by asking whether our seafarers are being adequately trained to use and cope with the advanced digital tools they’re given.”

Wiernicki believes that only by fully accounting for the welfare of seafarers can shipping meet its sustainability goals.