The global shipping trade is already under tremendous pressure due to container shortage. The Russian aggression on Ukraine ia all set to aggravate this situation further with a possible disruption in movement of seafarers globally. Russia and Ukraine contribute nearly 15 per cent of global seafarers.

Also, if the war situation continues for a longer period, Indian seafarers could be in great demand as the country contributes nearly 10 per cent to the global fleet, say officials in the shipping industry. Some of the other major suppliers of seafarers are China and the Philippines.

ICS warns of supply chain disruption

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), representing 80 per cent of the world's merchant fleet, has warned of supply chain disruption if the free movement of Ukrainian and Russian seafarers is impeded.

The Seafarer Workforce Report, published in 2021, reports that 1.89 million seafarers currently operate on over 74,000 vessels in the global merchant fleet. Of this, 198,123 (10.5 per cent) are Russian and 76,442 (4 per cent) Ukrainian seafarers. Combined, they represent 14.5 per cent of the global workforce.

Shipping is currently responsible for the movement of nearly 90 per cent of global trade. To maintain unfettered trade, seafarers must be able to join and disembark ships (crew change) freely across the world. With flights cancelled in the war region, this will become increasingly difficult. The ability to pay seafarers also needs to be maintained via international banking systems.

ICS has previously warned of a shortage of merchant sailors to crew commercial ships if action is not taken to boost the numbers. This has been compounded by draconian travel restrictions, brought on by the pandemic, that saw seafarers unable to crew change and resulted in thousands overstaying contracted periods at sea. The average ship has a mix of at least three nationalities on board, and sometimes as many as thirty.

Guy Platten, Secretary General of ICS, called on all parties to ensure that seafarers do not become the collateral damage of any action that governments or others may take. Seafarers have been at the forefront of keeping trade flowing through the pandemic and he hoped all parties will continue to facilitate free passage of goods and these key workers at this time.

K Vivekanand, former Pro Vice Chancellor at Vels University, and former Master Mariner with 26 years of sailing, said It is a bit early in the day to predict the impact of this war on the hundreds of seafarers, particularly from Ukraine, who man foreign flag ships all over the world. Those who are on board ships will not be in a hurry to get back to Ukraine, till things stabilise.

Problems will arise when their tenure on board is completed, and they have to be replaced. If that cannot happen, then the chances of seafarers of other countries being recruited will increase, and it is likely that seafarers from India will gain a foothold in the shipping companies, which have so far looked at Ukraine as their main source of manpower, he said. "Every cloud has a silver lining, however, tragically it is created,” he added.