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Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050: A Milestone Summit in Manila

More than 250 delegates from maritime, NGOs, governments and international organisations met to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the seafarer workforce

26 July 2023
Delegates at the Seafarer 2050 summit discussed the collaborations required to tackle challenges being faced by its seafarer workforce. Credit: Shutterstock

The Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050 summit, held on 26 June in Manila, Philippines, has been dubbed a milestone moment for the maritime industry by leaders in attendance. 

Organised by ICS, in collaboration with the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), with the Filipino Shipowners’ Association (FSA), it convened over 250 delegates including global industry leaders, governments, NGOs and international organisations. Its goal was to drive essential collaboration and begin to tackle future challenges facing the maritime workforce, including the rapid greening of the industry. 

Importantly, with a significant number of seafarers hailing from the Philippines, the choice of location underscored the importance of addressing the challenges and opportunities faced by the maritime workforce in the coming decades. 

Jaime J. Bautista, Secretary of Transportation under the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., told ICS Leadership Insights that the summit provided the chance to demonstrate to other governments its dedication and commitment to maritime, the kinds of initiatives it employs and the “strong collaboration” that exists between the Philippine’s government and private stakeholders, who share “a common priority of developing well-trained Filipino seafarers”. He continued: “The plan is to create a ripple effect that will ensure industry-wide progress, benefiting seafarers and other industry stakeholders.”

Gerardo A. Borromeo, ICS Vice Chair and Chief Executive Officer, PTC Holdings, noted that holding the summit on the 13th observance of the Day of the Seafarer was symbolic and felt like placing a marker in the sand as “the launch date to get all key initiatives needed across the board to achieve the ambitious Net Zero goals by 2050”. 

The outcomes of the summit revolved around the key areas of investment, training, recruitment and retention, and industry-wide collaborations.

Since the summit, an ambitious agreement to tackle shipping’s GHG emissions has been adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), only further underscoring the need for the outcomes from the summit to be enacted. Read more on MEPC80 here.

Investment in sustainable shipping

The commitment to decarbonisation and the transition towards cleaner fuels were central themes throughout the event. Discussions revolved around the importance of developing and adopting innovative technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable shipping practices.

Delegates at the summit strongly stressed if maritime is to achieve these goals there is a pressing need for investment and funding streams, particularly from governments, to address challenges related to seafarer recruitment, retention and training. Fifteen governments were in attendance at the summit. Borromeo noted that such government representation, including the attendance and participation of President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr of the Philippines, sent a strong message of government support for the summit. 

President Marcos Jr. himself reiterated his directive to the Maritime Industry Authority and the Commission on Higher education to “work closely with the shipping industry on the upskilling and reskilling of Filipino seafarers” to prepare for alternative fuels. He also emphasised the need for all governments to face challenges head on, stating, “I enjoin national government agencies, multi-layer organisers, and private stakeholders to work together in identifying strategies to ensure the availability of skilled workers to fulfil the requirements of the shipping industry.”

Recruitment and retention of seafarers

The summit attendees acknowledged the critical issue of seafarer recruitment and retention. Recognising that the future of shipping depends on skilled and competent seafarers, industry leaders pledged to address this challenge collectively. There was a particular mention given to the need to attract and retain a diverse workforce, promote gender equality, and ensure fair and decent working conditions for seafarers.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, noted that while many young seafarers do see shipping as a “life opportunity” there was an agreement from those at the summit to find ways to “continue to promote seafaring as an attractive career and ensure that we continue to recruit the highest qualified maritime professionals into the industry, because let’s remember this, seafarers move the world”.

Emanuele Grimaldi, ICS Chairman, said that shipping will need to not only do more to invest in its people but also keep “an open dialogue to ensure that we can recruit more people to this industry”. 

Training for future challenges

The summit emphasised the importance of continuous training and upskilling to equip seafarers with the competencies required in the evolving shipping landscape. 

Grimaldi commented that with the introduction of new fuels, ships and technological advances, “the role and concept of our seafarers will continue to evolve and change”.

Discussions among the delegates centred around the integration of new technologies, digitisation, and artificial intelligence into maritime operations. Industry leaders stressed the need for comprehensive training programs that address these emerging trends, preparing seafarers for the challenges and opportunities they will encounter in the future. The summit aimed to foster collaboration between training institutions, industry bodies, and governments to develop standardised and globally recognised training frameworks.

Belal Ahmed, Chairman of IMEC, highlighted once again the importance of industry-wide collaboration for training, stating, “Without participation of IMO [International Maritime Organization], ILO [International Labour Organization], governments, and wider industry bodies, any effort to address issues such as upskilling seafarers’ competence will not be successful.” 

Ahmed added that as changes are implemented and seafarer performance is put under greater demands, there will need to be a focus on welfare. “That must include reducing length of service at sea, [greater] family support and assistance in whatever form that will make the career at sea more attractive,” he said.

Industry-wide collaboration

In every discussion point delegates came back to one essential element for success: the urgent need for industry-wide collaboration. Grimaldi noted that only through “international collaboration, including both developed and developing worlds, can we meet the challenges ahead”. 

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for increased collaboration between the IMEC, ITF, and ICS. The involvement of governments, the IMO, and the ILO was identified as crucial in addressing issues such as just transition, digitisation, and achieving the goals outlined in MEPC-80. 

Cotton said that perhaps the most significant outcome of the summit was “the joint belief that as partners we can convince and collaborate with governments to ensure qualifications keep pace with change, and that we can continue to work together to attract young men, women and young workers to our amazing industry”.

Bautista said that he believes the summit will act as a “catalyst” for more multilateral discussions, partnerships and policies. He added: “The potential for collaborative efforts in research, development, innovation, investment, and policy-driven actions makes us excited as this holds great promise for a better working environment for our seafarers by 2050.” 

Imperative for action

Borremeo said that all groups present at the summit were “chomping at the bit” to drive “real momentum” towards achieving interim goals and objectives, from 2030, through 2040, leading to the attainment of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050 summit is hoped to act as a catalyst to spur the change and collaboration required to face the challenges that decarbonisation and digitalisation pose for shipping and seafarers. The outcomes from the summit reflect a collective determination to shape a resilient, efficient, and sustainable future for the shipping industry, ensuring that seafarers remain at the forefront of this transformation.