Drop in UK’s Seafarer Workforce

Life on the ocean wave is still very much a male dominated occupation. The latest Seafarer statistics show that for UK registered vessels only 3% of the crew are women and 97% men. The figure drops even lower for engineering at only 2%.

All foreign seafarers that serve on board a UK flagged vessel are required to hold a valid Certificate of Equivalent Competency (CEC). These certificates are issued on a like-for-like basis against a valid Certification of Competency and are issued in line with the international convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). UK Ship Register

The most recent UK Maritime and Shipping statistics show a drop in seafarers active at sea from 24,240 to 22,510 for the UK Shipping Industry. The Covid pandemic did have some impact and so a truer picture and trend of what is happening with the seafaring workforce might be a better indication with the statistics for 2023.

To serve as a certificated Officer on a merchant ship, a Certificate of Competency (CoC) or Certificate of Equivalent Competency (CEC) must be obtained. In the UK, these are issued by the MCA.

Trainee Officers, or Cadets, are not part of a ship’s crew but are on board to gain experience.

Uncertificated Officers are those without certificates who are employed in technical, catering or hotel functions, mainly in the cruise and ferry sectors.

Ratings are semi-skilled experienced workers who are not required to revalidate their competencies as certificated Officers are, or other staff without maritime training (for example, hotel and catering staff).

The nationality of seafarers serving in the UK Shipping Industry shows that only 13,190 are from the UK. The European Economic Area (EEA) accounts of 6,070 but by far the largest number of seafarers are from on EEA countries, 17,260.

Bar graph with percentages
Seafarers active at sea (CoS members) by type and nationality, 2022

Nationality of Non-UK Seafarers with a Certificate of Equivalent Competency (Top 5)


Nationality of Non-UK Seafarers with a Certificate of Competency (Top 5)

4%Sri Lanka

Not all seafarers in the UK shipping industry will be employed by CoS (Chamber of Shipping) members, although the numbers employed elsewhere are expected to be small.

The UK Shipping Industry is seen as one of the safest in the world but is heavily dependent on an international workforce.

Seafarers in the UK Shipping Industry: 2022 (revised)

The figures in this publication do not attempt to count everyone who works in a seagoing capacity in the UK; the focus is on the ‘merchant navy’ for which seafarer certification is managed by the MCA. There are other groups that are outside the scope of this publication but may be considered to be in seafarer roles.

Those in the Royal Navy, which has a regular trained strength of around 40,000 based on Ministry of Defence statistics (however the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is included in the above estimates).

There were an estimated 11,000 UK fishermen in 2021 based on statistics compiled by the Marine Management Organisation.

Most UK nationals working as crew aboard yachts will not be in scope of the above statistics (though Officers with MCA certificates to work on yachts will be included).

Those working on smaller vessels, such as those in companies belonging to the Workboat Association, are unlikely to be covered though no estimate is available.

The MCA has issued 3,600 Boatmaster licences for work on inland waters and near coastal work over the 5 years to mid-2017.

Those working in roles on shore are also unlikely to be covered.

It is possible that seafarers can belong to more than one of these groups. Producing an overall estimate of all UK nationals working at sea from the available data is challenging.

Fiona Grahame

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