Speech: Strategies for Professional Development of Seafarers and Global Shipping

Kitack Limi, Secretary- General, IMO

By Kitack Lim, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization
Developing effective strategies for the professional development of seafarers is a constant challenge for everyone involved in shipping. The importance of getting it right extends far beyond the industry itself, given the wider contribution shipping makes to the global economy.
Today we all depend on seafarers for most of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives. It is incredible to think how much the global population of more than 7 billion people relies so heavily on around 1.5 million seafarers – a staggering ratio. They bring both the essentials and the luxuries of life to us all. Shipping is essential to the world – and there would be no shipping without seafarers.
But this supply of manpower is not guaranteed. A shortfall of seafarer recruits, below the number required to sustain the industry, has often been predicted.
Shipping today is a highly technical professional discipline. And, as the industry continues to develop even greater technical sophistication and complexity, more highly trained and qualified seafarers will be needed.
Recruiting and retaining them is a real challenge. Clearly, further effort must be made to bring new generations into seafaring as a profession. Seafaring must appeal to new generations as an attractive and rewarding job, with a clear pathway for professional development, as well as leading to a fulfilling career ashore, after sea service.
Seafarer-related issues have featured in IMO’s work for several decades and will continue to do so. Because seafarers are ultimately implementing many of IMO’s measures, standards for seafarer training, certification and watchkeeping have been developed and enshrined in the STCW Convention. And a related concern for their welfare, both as employees and as individuals, can be seen in our continuing work on issues such as fatigue, fair treatment and liability and compensation for seafarers – not to mention our annual Day of the Seafarer, celebrated each year on June 25th, when we campaign globally to give wider recognition to seafarers.
Effective standards of training are the bedrock of a safe, secure and clean shipping industry. The challenge for trainers and employers is to ensure that the necessary skills are developed and practised for the future well-being of the shipping industry as a whole. The value of good education and training cannot be overstated. Investment in people is vital. Time spent learning is never wasted.
I know that is something you take very seriously here in Bangladesh, as can be seen not only in your commitment to implementing the STCW Convention, but also in analysing and addressing current obstacles, such as visa issues and training demands, whilst working on activities such as this one to promote Bangladeshi seafarers overseas.
But, important though they are, training and education are not the whole story. Dealing effectively with seafarer welfare issues is also absolutely essential if seafaring is to be an attractive career option. Seafarers are often described as an ‘invisible workforce’; and yet when accidents or incidents occur, all too often they become visible for the wrong reasons. In a number of high-profile cases, seafarers have been detained or imprisoned, often facing criminal charges. Being deprived of your liberty and badly treated without having faced trial or being able to respond to the accusations made against you is simply not fair – especially when, as is usually the case, seafarers’ actions are dictated by events outside their immediate control.
And when we talk of seafarers’ welfare, it is important that we also remember those who work in the fishing industry. Even today, many fishers have to endure greater hardships and worse living conditions than in almost any other industry. They deserve, and need, the same support and assistance that all seafarers receive. The standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for fishing vessel personnel are set out in the STCW-F Convention, for which we have recently initiated a comprehensive review process at IMO.
It was as long ago as 2006 that IMO, with the International Labour Organization, adopted guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident, and there are several other measures and agreements which talk about seafarers’ rights. The important thing is how they are enforced and implemented.
Speaking as someone who has had a long and enjoyable career in the maritime world, both at sea and ashore, I can truly say I believe that now is a really exciting time to be entering the maritime industry. Today’s ships are high-value assets and should therefore be entrusted to professionals of a similarly high quality. And, even though there is much publicity about autonomous vessels, there is no doubt that we will still need seafarers for the foreseeable future.
The message has to be that shipping is a vibrant industry; that seafaring is a viable career choice for people of the highest calibre; and that it really can provide rewarding, stimulating and long-term career prospects.
And it should be continually stressed that, beyond seafaring, the broader marine industries as a whole also have a great deal to offer in career terms. Many of the skills now needed for a job at sea are also highly transferable to a continuing career ashore. After a seagoing career in a responsible and demanding job, there are many opportunities ashore in related industries that rely on the skills and knowledge of those with seafaring expertise.
Many former professional seafarers are now serving in governmental departments, or are superintendents and managers in shipping companies, or perhaps working as maritime pilots or VTS operators or in rescue coordination centres. You can find them throughout the industry and in all parts of the world – and in IMO, too, of course!
Shipping offers a wonderful career – exciting, rewarding and fulfilling. And not only is it a satisfying and worthwhile career choice in itself, it can also open the doors to a great variety of related jobs ashore, jobs for which experience at sea provides an excellent grounding.
Being a speech delivered by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General, IMO at seminar of seafaring in Bangladesh recently

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