African maritime players urged to upskill seafarers for energy transition

As the maritime industry transitions to a low and zero-carbon future, African maritime players are being advised to implement new training infrastructure for seafarers to adapt to the ongoing continent’s green transition.

Credit: International Maritime Organisation (IMO)

Speakers at ‘Unlocking Green Maritime Jobs’ panel discussion held on 4 May outlined the growing demand for seafarers able to handle low and zero-carbon fuels (such as hydrogen and ammonia) and new technologies that will be needed in order to progress towards a decarbonized maritime shipping sector by 2050. 

“Africa is well positioned to be a green seafarer hub,” explained South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) Occupational Health & Safety and Maritime Welfare Manager, Sibusiso Rantsoabe.

“There is currently unprecedented demand for African seafarers and the urgent need to decarbonize creates further opportunities for our workers… Becoming a supply hub for the seafarers of the future is a win-win situation that will not only benefit African countries through the creation of good quality jobs, but the entire world by lowering the environmental impact of human actions. This presents an opportunity for Africa to ensure that we are not left behind but also cement our place as a potential new crewing frontier for shipping.”

Research commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force found up to 800,000 seafarers could require additional training by the mid-2030s to use these low- to zero-carbon fuels under the possible net-zero target.

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There are some noteworthy initiatives already in place.  The National Seafarer Development Programme (NSDP), run by the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), and the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) are due to launch IMEC South African cadet training program this year, with the first group of 50 cadets starting this month.

“As an organization that represents over 260 maritime employers around the globe and works to negotiate fair and sustainable seafarers’ wages and conditions of employment on their behalf, it is clear to us that shipping’s decarbonization journey will be powered by human beings. The industry is already experiencing a need for sufficient skilled workers to operate modern vessels and this will only continue to grow over the coming years. As a potential major seafarer supply continent, developing the talent of African seafarers offers us a pathway to delivering a greener future for shipping and the wider maritime world,” IMEC CEO Francesco Gargiulo commented.

As one of the world’s biggest growth markets with 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of $3.5 trillion dollars, Africa could reap some of the rewards of shipping’s green transition, according to the speakers.

“Transitioning away from fossil fuels requires additional skill sets that must be properly developed, and while this is definitely a challenge, it is also an opportunity for African countries to develop their own highly skilled seafaring workforces. As part of a Just Transition, these jobs must be decent, which includes meeting the highest health and safety standards,” International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Africa Regional Secretary Mohammed Dauda Safiyanu said.

“The sooner that we begin investing in green skills, the more likely it is that we can crew the low emission vessels of tomorrow,” he added.

Another advantage of setting up green seafarer training initiatives as early as possible is to minimize risk and human error when transitioning to new fuels and technologies, explained ICS Senior Manager Policy and Employment Affairs, Helio Vicente, ahead of the meeting.

“Given the mix of low and zero carbon fuels set to power ships in the future, training and upskilling seafarers has never been more urgent. Technology must evolve in step with seafarer skills so that the shift to a greener future is done as safely and efficiently as possible, minimizing risk along the supply chain. African maritime leaders must act now to ensure that their workforces are primed for shipping’s green transition,” she stated.

“Shipping’s green transition brings with it opportunities for thousands of high-quality, green jobs. Our Maritime Just Transition Task Force works to ensure that shipping’s transition to a zero-emission industry is as inclusive as possible. We now need governments to come to the International Maritime Organization this summer and align to the 1.5ºC of the Paris Agreement. This will create the market certainty to unlock the investments in seafarer training and skills today to support high-quality, decent green maritime jobs of the future – including in Africa,” Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor, Ocean, UN Global Compact, added.

The Maritime Just Transition Task Force was established during COP26 in November 2021, by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the United Nations Global Compact, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The Task Force aims to support a just and human-centred decarbonization of the shipping industry.

The Task Force, which is primarily funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, believes that by working together, governments, policy makers, ship owners and operators, seafarers’ unions, and other stakeholders, will maximize the likelihood of a just transition. 

The members, which recently highlighted opportunities for African seafarers at an event in Ghana, has also published a 10 point action plan to achieve a just transition for seafarers 

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