June 15, 2020

Serious Challenges – and Opportunities – for SA’s Maritime Economy

A predicted global shortage of 150,000 seafarers by 2025 and the exponential pace of technological development will produce serious skills development challenges, and opportunities, for the South African maritime economy, experts have warned.


CAPE TOWN - A predicted global shortage of 150,000 seafarers by 2025 and the exponential pace of technological development will produce serious skills development challenges, and opportunities, for the South African maritime economy, experts have warned.

Speaking at the SA International Maritime Institute’s (SAIMI) Maritime Education and Training conference in Cape Town on Wednesday, World Maritime University president Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry highlighted the urgency of the situation and cautioned all industry players to adjust their sails and “think collaboratively instead of competitively”.

“There is significant disruption on the horizon. Many of the jobs currently available are forecast to become obsolete a few years from now. On the plus side, many new jobs will be created,” said Doumbia-Henry.

“As maritime countries, we should examine the needs of new technologies and tailor our maritime education to meet these needs and those for a sustainable future. It is not enough, and short sighted, to educate tomorrow’s leaders based on today’s labour market.” Under the national government’s Operation Phakisa, the oceans economy is predicted to contribute R177 billion to the GDP and between 800 000 and one million direct jobs by 2033. The “Maritime Education and Training in a Digital Era” conference brings together maritime industry players, government stakeholders and education providers to examine the impact of technology on the education and training of the country’s future maritime workforce.

SAIMI chief executive Professor Malek Pourzanjani said the maritime sector had a vital role to play in addressing the country’s unemployment and job creation challenges, but that skills development needed to keep up with the global digital demand.

“The digital revolution has changed all our lives. We must explore the changes required in maritime education and training to align with technological developments and meet global best practice standards,” said Pourzanjani.

He said technology would also play a key role as the medium of instruction, with the rise of e-learning, distance-based learning and simulator training.

Some of the specific impediments to SA’s participation in the global oceans economy highlighted by speakers on the opening day of the conference included significant skills gaps, inadequate recruitment and the need to update the ongoing competencies of active seafarers. While technology would lead to fewer on-board crew jobs in the future, marine manufacturer Wartsila’s Mattheo Natali said many more on-shore jobs would be created, involving intelligent data management, cyber security and the like, which enable ships to operate more efficiently, safely and securely.

Danish Maritime Authority expert Andreas Nordseth predicted that the world was “at the doorstep of a third technology jump”, explaining that there had only been two such jumps in shipping history – the shift from wind to engine power and the rise of containerisation. While digitalisation, smart and autonomous ships presented “an ocean of opportunities”, Nordseth said regulatory bodies had not been able to keep pace with developments and that seafarer training was fast becoming outdated – focusing on subjects such as celestial navigation, but not on future dangers such as cyber security risks.

According to Nick Chubb of the UK-based Marine Society College, the speed of this advancement means that lifelong learning is the new minimum standard.

“The rise in smart shipping is creating a need for specialised, highly educated and better trained seafarers, with technology making courses more cost effective (via apps and online courses) and available to millions.”

The conference, organised by SAIMI, is taking place at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town and concludes tomorrow.

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