Proving their resilience in the face of appalling adversity, Ukrainian seafarers and their families are now stationed mainly in other European countries, and many are cutting back on shore leave, meaning crew levels are now back to where they were before the Russian invasion.
Henrik Jensen, CEO of Danica Crewing Specialists, outlined how the crewing situation has evolved over the past year:
When the war broke out, about 60% of Ukrainian seafarers were on merchant ships. Some wanted to return home immediately, but the majority stayed on board, and when their tenure reached the scheduled end they asked to stay longer to ensure an income, provided their families were safe.
“Over the summer, that situation changed as seafarers who had fled to other countries were reunited with their families, and at this point many of them were extending their shore leave breaks, leading to a brief shortage of auxiliaries.”
“However, the situation has now changed again and since the autumn we have seen supply and demand for Ukrainian seafarers balance out.”
Mr Jensen explained that the cost of starting family life in a new country combined with the increased cost of living in EU countries and the UK means that Ukrainian seafarers are now looking to return to paid work at sea sooner.
“Previously, most senior Ukrainian officers were on a four-month on/off rotation, but now they are more likely to serve five months onboard and only two months at home, and these patterns are similar for other ranks as well. As a result, each seaman spends more time at sea and thus compensates for all seafarers who are still unable to leave Ukraine. I expect this crew pattern will continue for some time to come.” he said.
According to the latest ICS/BIMCO Seafarer Workforce Report, Ukraine tops the list of countries identified as most likely to employ seafarers in the future. It is a country with a long maritime history – Ukraine has a seafaring tradition and there are even senior officers who are third generation seafarers in their families.
Ukrainian sailors went through a traumatic period. A year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some seafarers have started talking about their experiences. Speaking to Danica Crewing Specialists, many of these sailors recalled what happened when the tanks rolled and missiles landed in their home country.
For those at sea, this meant days of fear and concern for their families back home who were caught up in the conflict, while those on shore leave in Ukraine experienced the terror and deprivations of war.
A 40-year-old bulk carrier captain revealed how he was at sea when the invasion took place and his pregnant wife and two young children were in Mariupol. He remembered spending several awful days waiting to see if they were safe. When his brave wife finally found a phone signal and spoke to him, he revealed: “I can’t really explain this whole feeling when I heard her voice. I was on the bridge at the time and couldn’t stop crying, I was glad to know that she and all my family were still alive.” However, he added, “It was very horrible during our conversation in the background that hearing strong sounds of bomb explosions and I told my wife to take the whole family and try to escape if possible.”
The captain recounted how the city of Mariupol suffered a “heavy bombardment” that destroyed much of its infrastructure. He said, “All markets have been destroyed. They had neither electricity nor heating – and it was minus 15 degrees outside! To fetch water, they had to go outside and draw it from a spring.”
Some of Danica’s extensive crew pool were trapped in cities like Mariupol and Kherson, where fighting was fiercest. A 25-year-old seaman told how he was trapped under Russian garrison in Kherson with his mother, grandfather and ailing grandmother for three months while his father served at sea. The family spent much of this time in a basement.
A 39-year-old seaman whose family was personally helped by Henrik Jensen in Germany said: “The war had a very negative impact on my life and work.”
Your sense of loss is palpable. The master shared: “It’s like a book with no end at the moment. We lost everything and all we have fits in a backpack.
“I am a captain with great responsibility for man and ship. It’s hard to understand that we all became homeless and now I’m the only breadwinner in the family.”
For many seafarers, experience is an additional motivation. The 25-year-old seaman explained: “Ukrainians are among the best seafarers in the industry and this situation motivates us more and more to protect this status. Since our warriors protect our land, we should raise the bar too!”
Today, 331 seamen remain on board 62 ships in nine ports, including Odessa and Mariupol. In a press statement yesterday, the entire shipping industry is now demanding the release of seafarers who have been strapped into Ukrainian ports since the beginning of the war.
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