Find out more about the people for whom a successful crew rotation is just one part of the puzzle...
A successful crew rotation is mission critical in the maritime sector and so we thought that we’d pay some attention
to the people who make it all happen for World Maritime Day 2018 – the crew managers.
Arranging the travel of a vessel’s crew is not a crew manager’s only job, but it can take up the most amount of their time, and with an estimated invisible workforce of 1.5 million working on the world’s ships, it’s easy to see why. Crew managers face the daily challenge of balancing the needs and wants of seafarers against the financial health of the ship, all within a turbulent industry.
In order to better understand the life of a crew manager, we spoke to ATPI’s Captain Nitin Hardi. Capt. Nitin started his sea career at Univan, a leading ship management company based in Hong Kong, where he worked for 23 years – comprising of 20 years sailing and 3 years as Head of Crewing in India. In 2005, he joined MSC, a leading container ship owner based in Geneva, as MD and set up their crewing offices in India. He has worked with ATPI Griffinstone since 2012.
What are the main concerns for crew managers today?
“Cost is always going to be a priority for crew managers,” explains Capt. Nitin. “Travel is the second biggest cost next to crew salary for most vessels and crew managers play an important role in balancing and managing the budget of a ship.”
Intrinsically linked with the cost of crew travel is the efficiency of a crew rotation and any time savings that can be made. “There can be huge costs involved in crew being late to a vessel, so efficiency is always a concern for crew managers,” says Capt.Nitin. “Travel patterns of crew can change in minutes and so crew managers are always keen to find ways to minimise the impact that this has on timings and deadlines – if they’re not careful, rearranging travel can waste a lot of time and cause delays, which may have a serious impact commercially and to the reputation of the ship manager or owner."
Another element of crew rotations that is likely to keep crew managers up at night, at times simply because they are having to work through the night in order to amend last minute changes, are unexpected disruptions to planned rotations. Although curve balls are inevitable in the maritime sector, Capt. Nitin believes that feeling unsure about whether support is available 24/7 is a huge concern for crew managers; “By the very nature of their role, crew managers are trying to connect with ships that are constantly moving, and so they need to know whether they can rely on having access to consistent, global support.”
“A crew manager is balancing a number of influencing factors when deciding on the best course of action regarding crew rotations, such as cost of flights, availability and frequency of flights, immigration rules etc,” further explains Capt. Nitin.
"A cheaper flight does not necessarily mean the shortest transit time! Thus, a crew manager must find the balance between cost and routing in order to give a fair deal to the seafarer as well as to the employer"
Captain Nitin Hardi, ATPI's Executive Director for Shipping in Asia & Middle East
How have these challenges changed over time?
“Recruitment has been a challenge that’s become more and more significant in recent times,” notes Capt. Nitin. “Shipping is not a particularly ‘high-profile’ industry and so younger generations don’t readily consider a career in the sector, which means that crew managers find it difficult to hire the right people for the job.”
Significant staff shortages mean that crew managers are more keen than ever before to retain their staff and improving the travel experience for seafarers can help to do this; whether through limiting the effect of last minute changes, reducing uncertainty or offering access to more detailed information ahead of travel.
“In order to enhance crew retention, seafarers need to be supported and recognised for their work, and see potential for development within the industry and their life on dry land after,” explains Capt. Nitin. “Furthermore, the industry must change to attract a new cohort of crew, especially individuals from generation z and millennials.”
Capt. Nitin also highlights how increased visibility of information has changed the shipping sector; “Previously the flight options available for crew were only known by crew managers and travel agents, but now that we are in the ‘information age’ the crew and anybody else can easily verify the availability and the choice of flights.”
“There has been increasing calls for a more ‘humane’ approach to crew relief and so crew managers are balancing the needs and wants of the crew with the priorities of employers – as they are looking for a humane and cost effective approach,”explains Capt. Nitin. “With the introduction of the Maritime Labour Convention in 2006, the timing of crew relief has taken on new importance, as delay in relief is not an option anymore.”
What can offer the biggest help or reassurance to crew managers?
“Communication makes a huge amount of difference to crew managers, whether that’s between crew managers, travel management services and even travel suppliers,” notes Capt. Nitin. “Fortunately the cost of communicating with vessels at sea has become a lot cheaper in recent years and so it’s easier to talk to seafarers than it has been historically. There is, of course, the risk of over communication, which can act as a barrier to implementing efficient procedures, so it’s important for crew managers to set guidelines and processes for streamlined communication to ensure that everything that is shared is useful.”
Hand in hand with better communication between vessels and those off shore is the quick adoption of on board technology, explains Capt. Nitin. “We are seeing a move towards technology within the industry. Although this is moving at a slower pace than most crew managers would like, it’s still a sign that the industry is moving in the right direction."
"The shipping industry is built from a very traditional network, with many family-owned organisations operating within the maritime sector, and so the processes of scaling up has to be slow, but it is happening.”
And finally, what does a job done well look like to crew managers?
“A good job for crew managers is fairly simple – they want a smooth, successful crew change that adheres to contract, at a fair price” tells Capt. Nitin. “Crew managers want to support their captain and their crew and to ensure that the ship is running effectively. It sounds simple, but it’s rarely a straightforward operation, which is what makes a successful crew change so rewarding.”