Future Seafarer Training options for the Australian Maritime Industry.

Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia

Topical Issues

Observations and Recommendations from Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd (OSSA) following the MIAL Seafaring Skills Census.


The recent MIAL 2018 Seafaring Skills Census provides a sound basis for discussion and forward planning for both Industry and Government to deal with:

Future shortfall of Australian qualified Deck and Engineer Officers for both seagoing and shore based predicted demand for an additional 560 officers and ratings. This would be further aggravated should the current age demographic for both Deck officers and Engineers not be addressed.

In order to deal with the above MIAL has identified many general perceptions from the participants that need to be addressed.

The major barriers to training identified by end users in the following order:

-Cost of training

-Berth Access

-Quality of Applicants

-Ability to Mentor

We have attempted to deal with each of the above based upon personal experiences within the Australian Industry.



The cost of training in the declining and depressed vessel markets in Australia is prohibitive under current training cost structures imposed upon vessel operators. By comparison some other maritime nations provide support for their maritime training by way of government subsidy for both living and course costs for young trainees, which remains available through each level of certification. Also pathways can evolve during training programs (Norway) to allow for choice of a deck or engineering career. The major portion of training costs in Australia is generally stipulated within the operators Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Maritime Unions. Vessel operators historically carried the major cost of training for the broader industry including Pilot services, Port Authorities, Regulators, Training institutions, Oil and Gas majors, Tugs and others continuing along the maritime industry food chain. Retention of trained and competent seafarers has always been a huge problem for ship operators. Lucrative Pilotage, Towage and Shore based management positions are the major attraction for a shore based career progression. We were once asked by an Officers Union official as to where did we find our competent master mariners with Anchor Handling and DP experience? Our response was; ”you don’t find them, you make them”.

About the time of the previous census the then Labor Government formed a Tri partied Workforce Development Forum (inclusive of Navy) with one focus of Maritime Training under the Chair of Lynelle Briggs which was tentatively moving toward the recommendation of a levy system to cover most of industry training costs.  The principle involved required that all industry participants would share this cost on an agreed and equitable basis. The idea required broad agreement but foundered with the defeat of the last Rudd Government.

We are of the view that the best way to fund future training would require an equitable arrangement for all industry users and to also seek ongoing Federal government financial support to underpin such fund. The existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) provisions could be replaced by an industry standard scholarship arrangement. This would require Union consultation. and agreement .

 Given the change of dynamics between the AMOU and AIMPE we believe that this is achievable . Trainee providers would also have some certainty of projected enrolment numbers in the medium term.

On the matter of direct employment cost it should also be noted that under several International Flag States and National fleets that seafarers wages are not subject to income tax or owner operators have all the income tax deducted from seafarers wages reimbursed by National Governments as long as they satisfy Flag certification and Nationality requirements. Australia did have a similar situation in place for seafarers and other expatriate workers under section 23AG of the Income Tax Act, which provided tax relief for contract periods in excess of 90 days (leave Inclusive). This part of the act was rescinded in July 2009. The act was not just specific to seafarers but allowed Australian owners to compete effectively in foreign markets.  An export market could also be developed for Australian Seafaring Competencies should overseas employment benefit from favorable taxationtreatment for engagements beyond Australian waters. It follows that many of the XXX* foreign national seafarers currently engaged in Australia may have a significant competitive cost advantage by virtue of their National Collective Bargaining Agreements and / or wage subsidies. The discussion about foreign seafarers is in reality not about competency but about cost.

*171 less 38 NZ Nationals both at sea and ashore at time of census.





Berth Access:

The MIAL census has identified 50 unused sea time berths currently available on vessels operating in and around Australia.  This would appear not to be enough to meet future demand projections. Opportunities for cost effective sea time beyond Australia could be negotiated on the international fleets of companies currently operating within Australia. ASP, ANL, P&O Maritime, Solvtrans, Solstad, Maersk, Doff, Carnival Cruises, Serco, Teekay Shipping and the container companies regularly on the Australian trade immediately come to mind. This has been very effective historically on a smaller scale. Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd could assist having recent history in the development of these initiatives. Some of the architects of these programs are still active around the Australian Industry. Applicants from remote coastal and indigenous communities should also be considered. These initiatives for sea time would need to be dependent upon AMSA Marine Orders and any recommendation for change without compromising standards. Perhaps a cost of doing business in Australia might be a provision of a single trainee berth with proper supervision.


Quality of Applicants:

The lack of quality applicants in the industry is a fallacy. Professional Human Resources Departments can readily source good applicants. Well-targeted recruitment will lead to high retention when combined with well-structured trainee programs and mentoring. Unsolicited applications are received on a daily basis by most Ship Operators in Australia. Many of these applications display a passion for a seagoing career. Others demonstrate a liking for the earning potential and leave and not much more. Unfortunately our industry is not widely promoted within the wider community. Australia’s economic development has been built on reliable trade by sea with the rest of the world. Few school leavers are aware of the availability of a career at sea in the Merchant Navy and the variety of trades, operations that exist ranging from RO RO vessels, General Cargo, Oil and Gas Operations, Antarctic Exploration to Scientific research. Knowledge of the industry tends to be the domain of seafaring families. Programs from OSSA Ltd and Shipowners Associations can develop structured career information programs for schools around Australia.  The awareness of professional opportunities ashore as one’s career evolves needs to also be promoted. These include but are not limited to:

-Management roles with owner operators.

-Port authorities.


-Government Regulators.

-Classification Societies such as Lloyds, DNV etc.

-Oil and Gas companies involved in offshore exploration and production.

-Shippers and Ships Agency.

Wages and conditions are very competitive compared to shore based graduate entry-level positions. The even time leave rotations are alleviated by current technology that allows ready communication to home together with entertainment facilities beamed into ones cabin via satellite technology. Regretfully, even the existing Maritime Museums around Australia demonstrate minimal understanding or interest of Australia’s contempory commercial shipping.  In summary, a proper approach to recruitment will source quality applicants.



The importance of mentoring cannot be overstated. Good mentoring is the responsibility of the knowledge keepers both at sea and ashore. We can all reflect upon mentors that we have had in our life, whether it be teachers, managers or co workers. They are remembered for their sharing of knowledge and wisdom. They are also remembered as someone who can easily be approached and would find some of their valuable time for us even if it could not be at that specific moment.

The Nautical Institute publish and promote a small book called “Mentoring at Sea”. Key subjects addressed are;

-The 10-minute challenge

-Overcoming barriers to mentoring

-Shore support for onboard mentoring

-Developing a culture of mentoring

This is a fine guide for experienced Officers and Ratings. Shore based mentoring is also important. Managers should engage with trainees periodically for open dialogue and provide a progress review and advice (and support) as required. More importantly access to a retired or semi retired seafarer with whom a trainee can confide with confidentially. The Housing Industry Association has a template in place, which has been a quantifiable success. This is the type of program and service that Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd is seeking to develop. OSSA members can become a resource to a trainee throughout and beyond their traineeship. Good mentoring leads to better and safer seafarers.


Summary and Recommendations.


  1. Without an overhaul of traditional training structures Australia will not be able to meet projected shortfalls in professional seafaring competencies in the short, medium or longer term for Australian Seafarers. It follows that without local commitment to future training shortfalls will need to be met by foreign nationals on temporary visas or a migration program.


  1. Training structures need to be more cost effective and the reduced unit cost of training a seafarer should be shared equitably by all of the maritime industry including the wider beneficiaries of this trainingincluding Additionally, owner operators will require a large degree of ownership and management of their own trainee nominees/employees.


  1. Discussion on the above needs to include Employer Associations, Government, Vessel Owners and operators, Navy, Training providers, Unions and all end users. If there is a political will then Government through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority could provide facilitation. It should be noted that Government requirement for Merchant Mariners through AMSA, Border Force, CSIRO, AAD reflects their status as a major industry stakeholder .


  1. If agreement was reached on a new structure to replace the existing training status quo then a new entity would be required to administer a funding system, berth placements, industry promotion and specific selection criteria as required by individual operators. This may be within the existing Industry Associations or a new entity all together funded by the wider industry.


  1. Maritime training in Australia requires a long term commitment if we want to maintain a viable Australian Seafaring Competency base which is still rated amongst the worlds best.