How technology can enhance ship crew quality?


By Capt. Anwar Buftain

Team Leader-Fleet Personnel Group, KOTC

Maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy as it is by far the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world. Over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea, which is why quality manpower supply is the most important factor driving sustainability in maritime transport.

Dwindling numbers of qualified seafarers drives innovation

The highest priority of the international shipping industry remains the safety of life at sea so a shortage of competent seafarers, particularly officers, to operate the increasingly sophisticated vessels presents a challenge for the industry.

It is known that 75-96% of marine casualties are caused by some form of human error. The safe operation of a vessel is a function of the competency (as per STCW Code) and experience of the officers responsible for the execution of the company’s safety management system. Therefore, Oil Majors require vessels to be manned with a complement that reflects an adequate amount of experience and familiarity with company processes and procedures. This further adds complexity in manning of vessel.

Newer and more technically sophisticated ships and port systems are being built to meet the increased demand for seaborne trade while reducing manpower requirements. The unmanned autonomous vessel represents a modern and innovative solution to the shortage of qualified seafarers which, for many, is becoming an increasingly unattractive career. Routine tasks on board would be automated while the navigational and technical operations can be handled by a shore side operation, making the jobs more attractive and family friendly than they are today.

Crew Capabilities as Technology in industry develops

While evolving technology is beneficial for the shipping industry, it can pose a risk if personnel are not qualified in the use of more modern equipment, potentially leading to unsafe operation of the vessel.

Seafarer skills have always had to adapt to meet the advancement of technologies deployed on board. Technological evolution presents a challenge when training to ensure safety on board, especially as crews become smaller. The consequences of operator error vary considerably but, in many cases, incidents at sea can be extremely costly.

The future operating costs of ships

The operating costs of ships will increase due to countless new regulations, the low competence of seafarers, the high bargaining power of the Oil Majors and stricter rules regarding maintenance and repairs. Overregulation can be catastrophic for shipping companies when there is a crew shortage, resulting in the existing crew being overloaded. An unskilled and overloaded crew leads to more incidents, which in turn leads to stricter regulations, creating a vicious circle.  The cycle can only be broken by ensuring seafarers, ship inspectors and shore-based staff are educated and trained to the highest standards.

Poorly trained or underqualified personnel who are overworked will experience fatigue which, in turn can put the safety of the vessel at risk. Making sure your crew is properly qualified and certified to use the equipment on board will reduce the need to impose additional regulation.



High quality maritime education and training are the bedrock of a safe and secure shipping industry. Any training program provided must ensure quality is not compromised. To maintain sustainable development of the industry, nautical institutes need a stable supply of qualified instructors, while also creating and continually updating a global Maritime Academic Resource Database, containing the qualifications, experience and specialization of each teaching staff member. It has also become prudent to create, keep and update information on MET teaching materials by building a special e-Platform for these purposes


The best way to train maritime personnel in technical and non-technical skills is to use specially designed simulators that replicate complex shipboard conditions. There are many advantages to using Simulator-Based Training, including the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of training in a controlled environment. Web and computer based training should also be considered.

In addition to the earlier mentioned crew training requirements, crew quality can be enhanced by adopting latest HR management techniques to better understand seafarers’ needs.