Photo: UNCTAD

UNCTAD: Asia ranked as world’s largest seafarer pool

Asia is the largest provider of seafarer workforce in the world accounting for four of the top five countries supplying seafarers in 2021, a new report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) revealed.

Asia’s predominance in global maritime trade strengthened in 2020, as it maintained a 41% share of total goods loaded, increased its volume of goods discharged and remained the largest seafarer supply region in the world, according to UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2021 published on 18 November.

The Philippines was the top provider of both seafarers and officers, Indonesia took third place for ratings and fifth for officers, China was third for officers and fourth for ratings, and India was fourth for officers and fifth for ratings. The Russian Federation was the other country in the top five list.

Seafarers are important sources of income for the supplying countries – for example, the Philippines earned $6.5 billion in 2019 from its seafarers. However, this fell by 2.8% in 2020, to $6.4 billion.

This comes in times when the crew change crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded at sea long beyond their contract time, and others unable to sign up for their time at sea.

Authorities from the shipping industry have recognized the importance of seafarers’ role in sustainable shipping. The International Maritime Organisation Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has even approved a draft IMO Assembly resolution consolidating issues related to crew change, access to medical care, ʺkey workerʺ designation and seafarers’ prioritization for COVID-19 vaccination.

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This symbolic effort, supported by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), was echoed around the globe with many shipping industry players recognizing the initiative. At this year 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the effort went one step further with creating a new “Just Transition Maritime Task Force” to support millions of seafarers through shipping’s green transition.

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The new task force is said to push forward shipping’s climate goals while protecting its works and their communities, ensuring opportunity for all.

Asia also leads the way when it comes to gender equality and women holding port management and administrative roles. UNCTAD uses data from its TrainForTrade Port Management program to benchmark countries using a port performance scorecard.

In the category measuring female participation in the port workforce, Asian members were above average for women in management and administrative roles, at 52% – compared to 39% in Europe, the report revealed.

A leader in maritime and trade business

The pandemic drove dramatic variations in Asian trade between 2019 and 2020, particularly on the Transpacific route. As informed, reflecting the initial shock caused by the pandemic, container volumes from Asia to North America dropped by 13% between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 but jumped by 36% in the third quarter of 2020, reflecting a surge in cargo flows to meet consumer demand. 

Reflecting these large swings in trade flows, 2020 saw an increase of 2.8% on the route. By comparison, trade on the Asia-Europe route declined by 2.6% in 2020, according to the report.

The liner shipping connectivity of the continent also outperformed other regions, with the top five most-connected economies in the second quarter of 2021 being in Asia – China, Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region, China), Malaysia, Republic of Korea and Singapore.

Source: UNCTAD

Furthermore, Asia’s container port throughput declined by a marginal 0.4% in 2020, showing the resilience of the region’s containerized trade and swift rebound in exports.

The region also maintained its position as the global hub for container traffic, with nearly two-thirds being handled at Asian container ports, according to UNCTAD.

Meanwhile, another report published by UNCTAD predicts that the annual growth in maritime trade between 2022 and 2026 will slow to 2.4%, compared to 2.9% over the past two decades. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on maritime trade volumes in 2020 was less severe than initially expected but its knock-on effects will be far-reaching and could transform maritime transport, UNCTAD concluded.

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