Philippines and Indonesia spearhead training programs for seafarers as shipping moves toward decarbonization

The Philippines and Indonesia, which are home to just under 21% of the world’s crew members, are taking action to support their seafarers in developing modern skill sets as shipping decarbonizes.

Seafarers/Illustration; Image by Offshore Energy

With 252,392 of the world’s seafarers, 13.3% of global crew members, calling the Philippines home, the country’s taking steps to shift its training systems towards low and zero-carbon society. The country has been working on the tripartite International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA)  launched in January 2023.

Key aims of the IACGMA include contributing to the provision of appropriate training to the country’s seafarers in compliance with the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention. The IACGMA will also work to address concerns regarding ambulance chasing and unfair labour practices, and on issues related to the employability of Filipino seafarers overseas;

“Filipino seafarers have a long history of powering sea-borne trade and we hope to continue this tradition as we move towards decarbonized horizons. While this transition is certainly a challenge for the maritime sector as a whole, there are definitely opportunities to be seized by early movers, and we hope that our efforts will bear fruit for our seafarers and grant them access to high-quality jobs and long careers,” Sonia B Malaluan, Deputy Administrator for Planning at Philippines’ Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) said.

Indonesia is also making inroads to upskill its maritime workforce in line with the emerging needs of the sector through its ‘Skills for Prosperity programme in Indonesia’, delivered by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The country, which is home to about 7.6% (143,702) of the world’s seafarers, is modernizing its training regime through international partnerships that share knowledge as well as best practice.

The United Kingdom-funded programme includes the establishment of an industry advisory board for each of the four Indonesian polytechnics involved. This structure aims to promote closer collaboration between education and industry, and provide clear progression for graduates into skilled employment. 

“The partnerships from the Skills for Partnerships programme are creating decent employment opportunities in the maritime sector, which will result in wider socio-economic benefits across the region. We look forward to sharing the lessons learned from this programme so that other regions can make informed decisions about the best ways in which to prepare their future maritime workforces,” Mary Kent, Chief Technical Advisor, ILO, said.

Maritime operations of the future are likely to be significantly more complex with new fuels and technologies being used in an increasingly digital and automated work environment – a fact that is likely to influence the upcoming review of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) convention and code. 

 A recent study by DNV has estimated that 800,000 seafarers will require additional training by the mid-2030s to handle the fuels, technologies and ships of the future.

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As the skill set required for a career at sea continues to evolve, it becomes imperative to prioritize the provision of appropriate education and training. This ensures that upcoming generations of seafarers are equipped, proficient, and prepared to handle the emerging technologies and fuels that will be increasingly employed in the years to come. With a strong maritime workforce, countries must stay abreast of the evolving industry demands, facilitating a smooth transition towards a low and zero carbon future that will yield benefits for all stakeholders.

“Although the actions by the Filipino and Indonesian authorities are admirable, there is still much to be done if we are to appropriately empower a global seafaring workforce of the future. Improving the training environment is a very necessary first step – particularly given the concerns about STCW compliance and competency,” Fabrizio Barcellona, the Seafarers and Inland Navigation Section Coordinator at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said.

“This must be followed by upgrading to a new, modern and coordinated model for apprenticeships and cadet training with quality, enduring schemes backed by shipowners, unions and government. Collaboration between these sets of stakeholders is essential to deliver a Maritime Just Transition and safeguard their long term standing as global leaders in seafaring.”

Bringing together stakeholders such as governments, shipowners, unions, training facilities and more, is essential, explains Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor for Ocean, UN Global Compact.

“Decarbonizing shipping is essential to combat the climate crisis and it is encouraging to see seafarer hubs across Asia and Africa taking action to equip their workers with the skills for future green operations. The global nature of this evolution means that no one is alone in tackling this issue and the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, which is primarily funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, is committed to providing resources to support stakeholders making this journey,” he says.

A new effort to produce a seafarer training framework for decarbonization with relevant training materials for seafarers and maritime education and training providers is expected to be launched in July 2023 under Phase 2 of the Maritime Just Transition Taskforce.

“Combating climate change requires action across the maritime sphere, both in offices on shore and on vessels at sea. We know that seafarers are eager to do their part to green shipping’s operations and this framework, alongside some of the free online courses developed by the IMO, can help to boost crew knowledge of how their daily operations impact the environment,” Arsenio Dominguez, IMO’s Director of the Marine Environment Division said.