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New study explores seafarer training and skills needed to support decarbonization

18 January 2023

A study commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, established at COP 26 in 2021, investigates what training and skills seafarers will need to be able to support the decarbonization of the shipping industry. Our slide show shows the most important findings.

Seafarer training and skills needed to support decarbonization

The Maritime Just Transition Task Force, established in 2021 at COP 26 to ensure that the transformation of the shipping industry does not leave any seafarers behind, commissioned the study ‘Insights into seafarer training and skills needed to support a decarbonized shipping industry’. The aim is to explore how best to support the maritime workforce in making the shift to a decarbonized shipping industry. The study offers an initial assessment of how decarbonization may impact crew member skills and training needs and does not claim to answer all related questions conclusively.

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The scope of the study

The study, prepared by DNV with input from the Maritime Just Transition Task Force and its Global Industry Peer Learning Group, and supported by a literature review, focused on two tasks:
1.Quantitative: To estimate the number of seafarers who will need additional training in connection with the introduction of alternative fuels.
2.Qualitative: To present an overview of the skills needed for the decarbonization of shipping, and of the challenges that training seafarers for the transition will entail.

The alternative fuels and power systems considered in the study include dual-fuel internal combustion engines running on methanol, ammonia or liquid hydrogen as well as hydrogen fuel cell, ammonia fuel cell and battery systems.

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Estimated share of energy technologies in the international shipping fleet; IMO 2018 (left) and Zero Carbon by 2050 scenario (right). The Decarbonization by 2050 scenario ranges between these two.

The study modelled three different decarbonization scenarios for the shipping industry and their consequences for crew training needs:
1. IMO 2018 scenario: Greenhouse gas reduction of at least 50% by 2050; modelled by DNV
2. Decarbonization by 2050 scenario: Based on the DNV Maritime Forecast, 2021 (95% reduction of GHG)
3. Zero Carbon by 2050 scenario: Achieving zero-carbon operations by 2050 (modelled by Lloyd’s Register and University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS), 2019)

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Key findings (1): Estimates of the number of seafarers requiring specific training

In the IMO 2018 scenario (left), 310,000 seafarers are expected to be sailing on ships with alternative propulsion technology by 2050 and to require extra training.
In the Decarbonization by 2050 scenario, 750,000 seafarers will require extra training to handle alternative fuels and technologies by 2050.
In the Zero Carbon by 2050 scenario, which assumes a sharp ramp-up of alternative fuels in the 2020s, 450,000 seafarers will require additional training by 2030, and 800,000 by the mid 2030s.

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Key findings (2): Expected time periods of increased training need

In both the IMO 2018 and the Decarbonization by 2050 scenarios, a significant rise in the number of seafarers needing training on alternative fuel technologies – between 310,000 and 750,000 seafarers – is expected in the 2040s.
In the Zero Carbon by 2050 scenario, the number of seafarers requiring special training rises steeply from the 2020s until 2050.

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Key findings (3): Number of seafarers on LNG/LPG-fuelled ships

In both the IMO 2018 and the Decarbonization by 2050 scenarios (above), the number of seafarers expected to be working on ships fuelled by LNG/LPG will increase by approximately 100,000 new seafarers every second year until 2038. In the Zero Carbon by 2050 scenario LNG/LPG does not feature significantly.

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Key findings (4): Safety challenges associated with alternative fuels

Safety challenges associated with alternative fuels include:
• Pressurized storage – explosion risk, especially hydrogen
• Low flashpoint – flammability risk, especially hydrogen, but also methanol and ammonia
• Toxicity to humans and the environment – especially ammonia but also methanol.

Further risks include corrosiveness, cryogenic and asphyxiating properties, and caustic burn risks.

While the shipping industry is knowledgeable and experienced in transporting most alternative fuels as bulk cargo, their use and handling as fuel harbours additional risks and requires extra precautions.

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Proper training of seafarers is crucial to filling new roles and positions on board. Several factors will have to be taken into account before sufficient numbers of seafarers can be trained to handle the responsibilities resulting from decarbonization competently. Firstly, to develop appropriate training programmes there needs to be clarity about the relevant technologies to train for, and about the applicable regulations; regulatory development takes long times. Secondly, training facilities need to be planned, built and properly equipped to implement effective training programmes. Thirdly, it will be challenging to define the content of training programmes and train the many trainers needed as multipliers of this new knowledge; and lastly, there will be global competition for people skilled in dealing with alternative technologies, and experienced and certified seafarers will be scarce.

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A lack of clarity surrounding the viability and uptake of alternative fuel technologies and decarbonization trajectories as well as uncertainty about regulatory developments and financing are making it difficult for the shipping industry to plan, or to know what to plan for.
However, the IMO is currently developing guidelines for alternative fuel technologies. The existing model for IGF Code compliance, comprising model courses to be provided by approved training facilities, could then be adapted by the IMO to provide a minimum training framework on alternative fuel technologies.
Once there is more clarity about the ship propulsion technologies of the future, maritime training institutes could include the IMO model courses in their curricula. On-board familiarization is seen as an important aspect of a safe transition to, and use of, alternative fuels and technologies.

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Some knowledge and expertise needed for safe application of alternative fuel technologies already exists in parts of the industry. But the rapid technology development, automation and digitalization as well as ‘deadline pressure’ are changing job profiles and call for higher skill levels across the board.
When adopting alternative fuels, a holistic view accounting for human, organizational and technical challenges is important, as is a strong safety culture.
In times of a general shortage of skilled labour, recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of skilled seafarers is a growing, significant challenge.

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Skills and competencies for future seafarers – findings

Various factors add complexity to ship operation, increasing the need for ‘higher-skilled’ seafarers:

Decarbonization and sustainable shipping will require new sets of skills for seafarers in the years up to 2050 and beyond.

Alternative fuels involve safety challenges (flammability, explosion risk, toxicity) requiring a safety-first approach by the industry and more advanced safety skills.

Digitalized ship operations, automation and a growing focus on autonomous shipping call for enhanced familiarity with digital and automation technologies.

A combination of advanced personal, organizational and management skills will be needed by crew members for the shipping industry to benefit from the potential of future technologies and handle more complex maritime operations competently.

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The DNV HOT approach to ensuring safety

Ship operators should implement measures that ensure a sound safety culture in this time of transition – a time-consuming endeavour requiring close cooperation between managers and employees. The ‘safety mindset’ established on tankers and gas carriers must be adopted by shipowners and seafarers in other trades, as well. Human factors engineering that also addresses seafarers’ general well-being, workstation design and mental health, and a smart approach to fuel hazards help avoid human error and incidents.

DNV promotes the ‘HOT’ (Human, Organization, Technical) approach to safety. The safety of maritime systems can best be understood in a system perspective that requires constructive interaction between HOT elements, which together create robust and resilient systems capable of continuous improvement. DNV believes that this holistic approach is needed to address the safety challenges resulting from decarbonization, digitalization and automation of maritime processes.

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