DNV study: Overwhelming majority of seafarers in need of advanced tech & new fuels training

A staggering 81 percent of seafarers expressed a necessity for partial or complete training to effectively handle the advanced technologies expected to be deployed on future ships, a DNV study has found.

Image credit DNV

Additionally, over 75 percent of respondents (Deck and Engine Officers 78%) indicated a need for training on new fuel types, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), batteries, or synthetic fuels. The demand for training on emerging fuels like ammonia, hydrogen, and methanol surged even higher, reaching 87 percent among survey participants.

The study was carried out by DNV classification society and it was co-sponsored by the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF). The research examines the key drivers transforming the maritime industry and their impact on ship management and seafarers leading up to 2030.

The study was handed over to SMF Chairman Mr. Hor Weng Yew during the Nor-Shipping trade fair in Oslo.

The research draws on a comprehensive methodology combining a literature review, expert consultations, and a survey of over 500 seafarers responsible for operating dry bulk, tanker, and container vessels globally. Of the many forces shaping the future of maritime, decarbonization and digitalization were identified to have the most profound impact on the future of seafarers and ship management leading up to 2030.

As shipowners and operators are increasingly deploying modern technologies onboard and exploring the use of alternative fuels in a bid to stay compliant, the handling of incoming fuels and technologies will require the crew to have additional skill sets and thus the need for comprehensive training. At the same time, growing automation of components and systems onboard is expected to bring about a rise in autonomous and smart ships, thus the need to consider remote shore monitoring in the future.

The survey further showed that 52% of seafarers (Deck and Engine Officers 53%) indicated a strong preference for in-person training at a maritime training centre or academy, with 23% (Deck and Engine Officers 27%) that prefer a blend of in-person and online training.

Almost 70% of respondents have used simulators, virtual reality, or other digital environments when undertaking training, of which 60% indicated such training methods helped develop their skills, while 10% disagreed.

Two-thirds of seafaring officers said more advanced technology onboard would make their job easier, which fits well with the thriving maritime innovation ecosystem and increasing venture capital funding, particularly in Singapore.

However, only 40% of seafaring officers think shore-based control centres, used to operate some or all functions remotely, would make their onboard job easier.

With regard to sustainability and technology as talent recruitment and retention tools, 55% of respondents indicated that new developments in fuels, automation, and digitalization onboard ships could retain existing seafarers and attract new seafarers.

“With decarbonization and digitalization rapidly transforming the maritime landscape, it is essential that shipowners and managers understand the new challenges and opportunities that these forces present,” Cristina Saenz de Santa Maria, Regional Manager South East Asia, Pacific & India at DNV Maritime, said.

“Proper training and industry collaboration will be imperative to ensure seafarers are equipped with the competence and skills to operate ships using new fuels and technologies in a safe and efficient manner. Upskilling seafarers will not only enable them to execute additional monitoring and maintenance tasks onboard but can also be leveraged upon to improve attraction and retention in the industry.”

“The work that we do this decade is important and complements the efforts of the shipping community to meet the net-zero target in 2050,” Chairman of SMF, Mr. Hor Weng Yew, said.

“It is essential that we begin by understanding where the competency gaps are, areas of training most needed, and then work as an industry to equip sea-going professionals with the transition and future skills needed to safely and effectively operate the new-fuelled types of ships that are coming into service.”

Following the research results, the study recommends seafarer training be prioritized for fuels that are most likely to be predominant in the current decade.

This means key stakeholders such as regulatory bodies, shipowners/ operators/managers and training academies should carefully assess and target skill deficits in digitalization and decarbonization in the current decade to ensure seafarers are ready for the future.

Training could be prioritized on LNG and batteries, as they are expected to become the most commonly used alternative options in the current decade. Recently, the number of vessels with LNG and battery or battery-hybrid has significantly increased, making it critical to focus on these fuel types.

The recommendations further indicate that the industry should adopt the future seafarer training model whereby maritime training academies focus on providing basic/generalized shipboard skills, while ship operators should focus on delivering fuel-specific and vessel-specific training.

This could be done by using new training methods which may involve a blend of digital and in-person training components to optimize available resources and ensure seafarers have access to the best training. Additionally, technologies such as VR/AR can further enhance seafarer training.

Shipowners/operators/managers and training academies should prioritize training the most suitable seafarers based on their position onboard, experience, and availability. For example, senior officers should be trained on new technologies and fuels to provide effective mentoring and on-the-job training, followed by junior crew members whose onboard training can be supplemented with technology-assisted training such as virtual reality and simulators.

Future STCW courses could introduce updated fire-fighting techniques and methods into the curriculum to combat the new types of fires posed by emerging fuels.

The study further recommends for maritime training organizations and employers of seafarers to renew their focus on developing seafarers’ soft skills.