Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Dr David Glen, London Guildhall University (FUS 11)


  The evidence presented below summarises the principal findings of recent research into UK Seafarer numbers, published in June 1998, and provides a brief review of the updating work going on at present. The principal findings are that there are 28,000 active UK Seafarers of whom 15,600 are active officers. It is expected that officer numbers will fall dramatically over the next few years, unless there is a more pro-active government policy stance. The updating work appears to reinforce this conclusion.


  Two primary points must be emphasised. Firstly, the most reliable elements of this evidence are those based on certification and revalidation, these processes apply to officers, but not to cadets or ratings. Secondly, retirement is assumed to take place universally at 65 or at a combination of 57 years for officers and 65 years for ratings.

  The definition of active officer is based upon the analysis of the data regarding certification, combined with revalidation and endorsement. The data was obtained from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who are responsible for the issuing of certificates. This is currently taking place at both Cardiff and Southamption. It is important to note that not all certificated officers are necessarily actively employed at sea. An allowance has to be made for certificate holders who are employed in shore-based jobs.

  Research carried out in 1997 and published earlier this year provides a detailed statistical snapshot of the state of the UK Seafarer stock at that time (census date 30 June 1997). A brief summary of a number of a principal findings of that study, relating solely to UK seafarers, is given below.

Estimated UK Seafarer Numbers as at 30 June 1997
Retirement Age 65 years


Total Certificated Officers17,144
Certificated Officers at Sea15,601
Active Cadets1,130
Active Ratings10,860
Deck and Engine Room4,800
Catering and Other6,060
Total Active UK Seafarers29,134
Total Active UK Seafarers at Sea27,591

  Table 1 gives overall numbers, but three points must be made. Firstly, the most accurate elements in the table are those based on the certification method; secondly, cadets are estimated through the GAFT Scheme, since replaced by SMART, thirdly, the retirement age is assumed to be 65 for all seafarers.

  The total of certificated UK officers was 17,144; divided into 15,601 seagoing officers and 1,543 shore based officers, using the estimate that 9 per cent of all active officers are in fact shore based.

  The number of active cadets stood at 1,130; this is the total of cadets going through training and therefore covers all years of the process. It was estimated that there are approximately 10,860 active UK ratings. This figure was the least reliable of all the analyses as it has been derived from extrapolation of past trends using a time series model. On this basis, there are some 4,800 deck and engine room ratings, or 37 per cent of the total. The catering and other departments were estimated as 6,068, some 63 per cent of all ratings.

  These figures can be summarised in two different ways; firstly, the total number of active seafarers, which is estimated to be 29,134; secondly, the total number of active seafarers at sea, which is calculated as 27,591. The difference, as previously indicated, is due to those officers who continue to revalidate, and remain active by definition, but who are no longer employed in the seagoing sector of the labour, force.

Number of UK Officers at 30th June 1997

NumberPer cent

Retirement Age at 65

Retirement Age at 57


  For UK officers, the reduction resulting from a 57 year retirement is 2,538, or 15 per cent of the 65 year total. The distribution of officers remains largely the same irrespective of whether the retirement age is taken to be 57 or 65 years.

  The other new piece of information presented in Table 2 is the split of officers into their two main components, deck and engineer. Throughout the table deck officers are a slightly larger group than engineer officers; in all these calculations the average is around 53 per cent for deck officers, 47 per cent engineers for officers.


  Turning now to the consideration of the age distribution of UK officers, an analysis of the age profile of all officers was carried out. Figure 1 illustrates the age structure of the UK officer stock as at 30 June 1997. There is a minor peak in the 23 to 26 year age range, but the main peak occurs in the age range 40 to mid 50 years. The figure also indicates a tiny group (137 officers) shown up by the "active" criteria who are 65 years of age or older. The profile reveals that some 71 per cent of all officers are 40 or more years of age.

  An analysis of the departmental data contained in Table 3 reveals that 72 per cent of deck and 70 per cent of engineer officers are aged 40 years or more. If retirement is taken to be 57, the overall proportion becomes 66 per cent, and departmental splits become 67 per cent for deck, 65 per cent for engineer officers.

Age profile of UK officers at 30 June 1997

AgeDeckEngineer Total

20-24293373 666
25-29531558 1,089
30-34609629 1,238
35-391,110865 1,975
40-441,5451,331 2,876
45-491,4511,454 2,905
50-541,6571,320 2,977
55-591,202906 2,108
60-64758545 1,303

All Ages9,1567,981 17,137

Age to 577,6906,909 14,599

  The ageing officer work force is a comparatively recent development, as the following table highlights.
Age distribution of seafarers 1938-97

19381961 19711997
Age groupPer centPer cent Per centPer cent

Under 186 40
18-19107 00
20-241423 224
25-342726 2613
35 and over 4937 4183

Note: 1938 figure of 10 per cent is for Under 19. 1997 UK Officers only (this research).
Source: HMSO Population Census 1971.

  Some care must be taken when considering Table 4. The first three columns are population census figures for the whole industry. On the other hand, the 1997 figure is from the current research and considers only officers. The census figures broadly consist of young seafarers under 35 years of age, who constitute between two-thirds to just under a half of all seafarers over time. For example, in 1971, 59 per cent of all seafarers were less than 35 years old. By 1997 the percentage change is startling, with 83 per cent of officers being over 35 years of age. This serves to highlight the potential problems for an industry of an ageing labour force.

  The question arises, how unusual is this ageing labour force? This issue was addressed by comparing the age profile of the UK officer with that of the male working population of Great Britain, which was derived from the latest available census, 1991. The results are presented in Figure 2, and in Table 5.

  Some 53 per cent of the total working population are under 40 years of age, whereas the relevant proportion for officers is only 29 per cent. Only 45 per cent of the total male work force are aged between 40 and 65 years; 2 per cent are over 65. By contrast, 71 per cent of UK officers, are over 40. This and the previous discussion also confirms the unusually large concentration of officers in the higher age ranges. The most accurate assessment of ratings suggests 53 per cent of them are aged between 40 and 65, considerably older than the average for the total male work force in Britain.

Comparison of UK officer with male working population
of Great Britain (1991 Census)
Percentage distribution at 30 June 1997


65 or more1.93


  A detailed examination was undertaken of the levels of qualifications within the UK officer group. Deck officers held some 6,032 (66 per cent) Class 1 certificates, out of a total of 9,156. In contrast the distribution of the 7,988 engineer officers showed substantial numbers holding either Class 1 or Class 4 certificates. More specifically, 3,370, (44 per cent) of engineers held Class 1 certificates, with 2,438 (32 per cent) holding Class 4; the remainder were spread between Classes 2 and 3. There was a small minority of steam-certificated engineers still active. This evidence illustrates the extremely high levels of certification within the officer group.

  Endorsements can abe summarised into two components, "Dangerous Cargoes" and "Command". Approximately 33 per cent of UK officers hold a Dangerous Cargo endorsement. A small number of deck officers possess Command endorsements.


  Some projections were created using information derived from the database and by making a number of assumptions about future cadet entry and the officer wastage rate. The "most likely" projection is presented in Table 6 (See end of evidence). Assuming an officer retirement age of 65 years the most likely outcome is that officer numbers will decrease very rapidly from the present total of 17,144 to 13,877 in the year 2002, falling again to 11,647 in 2007 and to 9,136 in 2012. If the retirement age is set at 57 years, the projections imply a decrease from 14,599 to 10,313 in the year 2000 falling to 7,424 in 2007, and 5,757 in year 2012.


  Work is currently in hand to update the findings outlined above. The MCA has provided access to their electronic data on certificate issues and revalidations, which are currently held on two distinct databases, one at Cardiff, at the RGSS, the other at the MCA head office at Southampton. The intention is to match the records held in these two databases to update information held in the 1997 database. This has proved to be much more difficult than first envisaged, for a number of reasons. First, whilst the data held at Southampton is very complete, only 1,250 entries have been processed relating to the period July 1997-June 1998. By contrast, some 3,500 entries are recorded on the Cardiff database. Second, the data held in electronic form at Cardiff relates only to discharge book numbers, names, certificate issue numbers and dates. No other salient information is recorded electronically.

  An attempt has been made to estimate UK Officer numbers for 30 June 1998. The records of all UK Officers whose data is held on the 1997 database were matched into the records of new issues held at Cardiff and Southampton over the period July 1997-June 1998. Officers who validated in the year July 1992-June 1993, and could not be matched into the MCA databases, were assumed to have retired from the stock. This then gives an estimate of Total Officer numbers as at 30 June 1998, given by:

    "Stock at 1997" less "Revalidations last done in 92-3" plus "Cardiff revalidations" plus "Southampton revalidations" equals "Stock at 1998".

  The estimated decline in UK officer numbers in 1997-98 is, on this methodology, shockingly large, much larger than is provided for in the "most likely scenario" projection, reproduced in Table 6 below.


  A re-examination of the 1997 database revealed that the five-year revalidation cycle will involve the following revalidations, assuming that each officer revalidates in the final year of their certification period. Revalidations will need to be around the numbers shown in Table 7 if the stock is to remain constant. If revalidations are lower than the numbers shown, the stock will necessarily decline. The extent and rapidity of the decline will depend on actual revalidations.


Revalidation periodDeck EngineerTotal

Age 65
1 July 1997-30 June 19981,302 1,0832,385
1 July 1998-30 July 19994,222 3,3287,550
1 July 2000-30 July 20011,595 1,5143,109
1 July 2001-30 June 2002987 1,0252,012
1 January 2002-30 June 20031,052 1,0092,061

Total 17,117
Age 57
1 July 1997-30 June 19981,102 9702,072
1 July 1998-30 July 19993,264 2,7015,965
1 July 2000-30 July 20011,402 1,3352,737
1 July 2001-30 June 2002932 9601,892
1 January 2002-30 June 2003990 9511,941

Total 14,607

  The important point to note is the proportionately large number of revalidations which must occur in the present year (1998-1999), at the latest, if 7,500 (6,000 if 57 is taken as the correct seagoing retirement age) UK officers are not to be lost. This is in part due to the original introduction of the certification and revalidation scheme causing an initial bunching of certificate issues, and implies either a sharply increased level of activity at the MCA if the majority revalidate, or a significant drop in officer numbers if they do not.


  No attempt has been made to update the estimates for ratings. Cadet numbers have probably increased, as cadet intakes have averaged around 450 for the past two years, whilst those reaching the end of their career are far fewer in number. I estimate that the present number of cadets is about 1,300, some 140 more than in June 1997. The change however, is too small to prevent the UK Officer stock from declining further.


  In the 1997 UK Seafarer Analysis, it was concluded that:

    "The statistics presented here reveal that the industry has a well qualified but ageing work force. Given the age profile, nearly 70 per cent of the present officers will leave the industry in the next two decades. The implications of this are very serious for both sea and shore based employment which requires qualified staff with seagoing experience. There is no doubt that the evidence regarding ratings is less accurate, but the examination so far suggests there are similar trends. Therefore, there will probably be an analogous—if not so acute—supply problems in the future, particularly among the highly skilled experienced members of the work force.

    An ageing work force brings stability to the industry in the short term, but if the current trends are allowed to persist the long-term cost will be a dwindling resource of highly qualified seafarers. The reality for the industry is that the "long term" can be defined as less than a decade. It would appear that the number of cadets and junior officers presently being trained in the industry is below that needed to maintain the present level of experienced officers." (UK Seafarer analysis, 1997, page 19.)

  I see no reason to amend the above prognosis: indeed, recent evidence on cadet entry numbers for 1998, and on officer revalidations identified in Cardiff and Southampton, suggests that the projections are optimistic.


  Dowden, J, D Glen, and J McConville UK Seafarer Analysis 1997 Centre for International Transport Management, London Guildhall University, 1997, London ISBN No. 1 899764 11 9.

David Glen

Reader in Transport,

Centre for International Transport,

Department of Business Studies

1 December 1998

Projections of UK officer numbers, 1997-2032 (Most likely case, as at 30 June 1997)

19971998 199920002001 200220072012 201720222027 2032

Age 65
Waste635 609584562 544461377 320283272 280
Retirement158 219248268 267277345 242195100 50
Stock17,13716,363 15,65415,01914,466 13,82911,88710,208 9,2228,6718,677 8,995
Deck9,1568,729 8,3537,9917,681 7,3256,2805,392 4,9454,6764,692 4,902
Engineer7,9817,633 7,3017,0286,785 6,5035,6064,816 4,2773,9953,984 4,093
Deck (Per cent)53.4353.35 53.3653.2153.10 52.9752.8352.82 53.6253.9354.08 54.50
Age 57
Waste484 455426402 380307254 230233243 258
Retirement434 417449500 456361358 1809267 37
Stock14,59913,689 12,92612,23711,602 10,9299,0187,875 7,4437,6418,116 8,541
Deck7,6907,190 6,7986,4116,039 5,6904,7424,210 3,9754,1204,417 4,689
Engineer6,9096,499 6,1285,8265,563 5,2394,2753,666 3,4693,5213,699 3,853
Deck (Per cent)52.6752.53 52.5952.3952.05 52.0652.5953.45 53.4053.9254.42 54.89

Wastage rates 20-29 = 0.03, 30-49 = 0.03, 50 plus = 0.05, Cadet entry = 500, Cadet wastage = 0.04

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