Shipowners and managers are facing up to the prospect of huge seafarer shortages following Russia’s explosive invasion of Ukraine.

Ship managers are predicting difficulties in getting thousands of crew in and out of the Ukraine during the crisis, while sanctions are likely to make it difficult for Ukrainian or Russian seafarers to be paid.

The Ukraine has grown as a key labour supply country during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the last two years officers and ratings from the country have made up the shortfall caused difficulties in securing crew from the Far East.

Russia and the Ukraine are two of the largest labour supply countries to the international fleet.

A BIMCO and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) study estimated there are 198,123 Russian seafarers of which 71,652 are officers and 126,471 are ratings. Ukraine supplies 76,442 seafarers of which 47,058 are officers and 29,383 are ratings. The two countries represent 14.5% of the global workforce.

One manager told TradeWinds the war conditions will make it nearly impossible for seafarers from Ukraine to travel to ships. They also expect a large proportion of Ukrainian seafarers to be conscripted to the military.

The logistical problems in securing seafarers comes as the industry is still struggling with crew issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The outbreak of war has thrown up multiple operational problems for shipowners and managers. “What do we do if we have Russian and Ukrainian crew on the same ship?” questioned one manager. “What is going to happen if we have Ukrainian crew on a ship that is calling at Russia, or Russian crew on a ship calling at the Ukraine? The whole thing is going to be an operational nightmare.” he said.

The other issue is that the additional sanctions from the US and Europe may make it difficult for shipowners to pay both Russian and Ukrainian crew.

Danica Crewing Specialists told TradeWinds it has put its contingency plans into action following the invasion.

All 50 staff at its Odessa office are safe and working remotely, as they did during the pandemic.

They are in constant touch with CEO Henrik Jensen in Hamburg and with vessel owners, seafarers and their families.

ICS secretary general Guy Platten said safety of crew should be the priority. “The safety of our seafarers is our absolute priority. We call on all parties to ensure that seafarers do not become the collateral damage in any actions that governments or others may take.

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“Seafarers have been at the forefront of keeping trade flowing through the pandemic and we hope that all parties will continue to facilitate free passage of goods and these key workers at this time.”

One likely development is that, following escalating military action around the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, the area is likely to be designated as a high-risk area under International Transport Workers’ Federation wage agreements. The designation would entitle crew working in the region to higher pay.

One such agreement is made under shipping’s largest collective bargaining agreement the International Bargaining Forum (IBF). The ITF and Ukrainian Seafarers' Union have been contacted for comment.