Ship officer qualifications should be regarded as the equivalent of a university degree in the opinion of InterManager president Alastair Evitt.
That would help a great deal in improving the public image of shipping and encouraging more young people to choose a career at sea.
The industry’s reputation has taken a dent as a result of the Costa Concordia caualty, Mr Evitt acknowledged, with the fact that 99% of all cargo arrives safely never making the news.
Addressing delegates attending last week’s Maritime Round Table in Casablanca organised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation, Mr Evitt said industry leaders had to recognise that this was an age when career-minded school-leavers expected a university education.
The head of InterManager, the trade association for the shipmanagement industry, said officer training must be seen as the same as a university education.
He warned employers against the temptation to cut back on officer training. “In these days of recession and austerity, saving on training costs must be an easy target for shipowners and managers,” Mr Evitt said.
“This has to be a false economy as training surely must be the most important investment in ensuring safe and efficient onboard operations. The alternative is the cost of an accident.”
Mr Evitt also commented on the “harbingers of doom” who have been forecasting crewing shortages for the last 20 years. This has been allayed to a large extent by the arrival onto the international market of seafarers from former Soviet Union countries and, more recently, Chinese seafarers.
However, with the exception of some Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, “there are no lost tribes of future seafarers out there”, said Mr Evitt.
Valuing seafarers “is a first step in attracting new recruits to our industry,” he told the ITF conference.
In order to attract the best entrants to the industry, “we have to be able to offer a defined career path — either to rise through the ranks or, indeed, to progress from ship to shore.”
Shipping also has to appeal to the “computer age” generation, and accommodate their requirements on board so that they can use Facebook, Twitter and other social media means of communication.
• MR EVITT, whose two-year term as InterManager president ends next week when the association holds its annual general meeting in Copenhagen, has written the foreword to Payload, a thriller about a fatal hi-jack, lawless Somali pirates and a complex, multi-billion dollar cyberfraud.
The novel has been written by maritime marketing expert KD Adamson, a consultant for Stark Moore Macmillan, an InterManager associate member company.
Proceeds from book sales will benefit The Mission to Seafarers as well as helping to raise awareness of the Save Our Seafarers campaign, which is chaired by Mr Evitt.