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Hiring of ship crew hampered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Hiring of ship crew hampered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Courtesy of NYK Line

Foreign crew members work on a ship.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

2:00 JST, May 3, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has negatively impacted maritime shipping companies’ ability to secure Russian and Ukrainian crew members.

Both countries are among the world’s largest providers of crew members, who are essential for international shipping services. But the prolonged war in Ukraine has begun hampering recruitment.

Concerns are spreading in the industry as the situation may adversely affect smooth trade.

Replacements hard

In March, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) issued a statement that said a labor shortage in the shipping industry because of the invasion will worsen confusion in supply chains.

The ICS comprises marine shipping industry associations across the globe. The statement indicated its concern about possible crew shortages from now on.

According to the ICS’ 2021 report and other data, Russians number 198,123 of the 1.89 million crew members worldwide. This is about 10% of the total.

Russia is the second-largest provider of commercial shipping crews after the Philippines, which accounted for 252,392 crew members.

Ukraine was ranked sixth, providing 4% of the total.

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Partly because crew members from these countries are paid lower wages than those from Western countries, European shipping companies have proactively employed crew members of these nations.

Crew from these countries therefore support shipping all over the world.

However, due to many nations’ sanctions on Moscow, flights to and from Russia and Ukraine have been canceled one after another. There are cases of crew members from the two places becoming unable to reach ports and board ships.

Economic sanctions on Moscow have also made it difficult for shipping companies to pay salaries to Russians.

It is common for crew members on sea-going vessels to be replaced every few months, but an official of the ICS said, “Replacements have become difficult.”

Reluctant to hire

In April, the European Union and the United States announced prohibitions on the entry of Russian-flagged ships and some others into their ports.

Setsuo Nomura, a senior research fellow of the Japan Maritime Center, said, “Shipping companies everywhere cannot help but become reluctant to employ Russian crew members.”

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, Filipinos account for about 70% of crew members employed by Japanese shipping companies. Russians and Ukrainians account for less than 1% each.

But if shipping companies in Europe and other major countries want to hire crew members from Asia as an alternative to Russians and Ukrainians, Nomura said, “It is feared that Japanese shipping companies will also face difficulty in securing crew members sometime in the near future.”

Russians accounted for 4% of crew members for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. as of March 2021. This was the highest percentage among major Japanese shipping firms.

Until recently, the company had set up a training center for crew inside Russia to increase the number of Russians employed.

But at a press conference on April 18, Executive Vice President Toshiaki Tanaka said, “We don’t plan to proactively expand the employment of Russians,” indicating that the company will cap such hiring for the time being.

In late February, just after the start of the invasion, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. made Russian crew members disembark from ships on which there were both Russian and Ukrainian crew members.

Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line) is considering increasing employment of Philippine and Indian crew members if hiring Russians and Ukrainians becomes difficult.

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