Sergey Nikitin: Our seafarers are still in high regard in the market
As it is known, personnel is key. In his interview with IAA PortNews, Director of Sinilga crewing agency Sergey Nikitin tells about training of Russian seafarers, their wages, reliable and non-reliable employers, bureaucratic and legal aspects of crewing as well as activities of related trade unions.
- Mr. Nikitin, could you please say a couple of words about your company and about the current situation with employment of Russian seafarers?
- We have been operating in the crewing market for 20 years. We are headquartered in Kaliningrad and have a perpetual license. We are engaged in employment of Russian seafarers for foreign shipping vessels worldwide.
First of all, they are graduates of the Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping, the Baltic State Academy of the Fishing Fleet in Kaliningrad and a Fishery College in Kaliningrad.
Our seafarers are still in high regard in the market due to their strong background with old school representatives among the teachers in the above-mentioned educational institutions. However, the new generation of teachers do not feature the level we expect.
We used to have a Maritime School for training of junior specialists such as seamen, enginemen electricians, mechanics, etc. whose professionalism could exceed that of any foreign specialist. Unfortunately, the Maritime School as an independent educational institution has been closed. In my personal opinion, that has resulted in deterioration of young seafarers’ level of knowledge and skills. I estimate the reduction of knowledge level at about 50% over the recent years.
- Yet, Russian seafarers are still in demand, aren’t they?
- Yes, we have excellent specialists. However, they are 45 to 50 years old. Among them are first-class mechanics and masters, but they are already employed by different companies which hold them strongly.
The situation with young specialists is more challenging. Young people eager to become seafarers are in rage but there are few of them. Most wish to join a crew of a good ship and earn much. The do not take into account the need to have an excellent knowledge of English, navigation, international laws and lots of other things. Here comes a problem: it is a shame to provide ship owners with seafarers of low level who are to be decommissioned in a couple of days. So we have to work with specialists from other countries.
As for Kaliningrad, about a half of graduates can work on modern vessels of foreign shipping, tankers and chemical carriers. In Saint-Petersburg, it is probably about 60%.
- Are there problems with bureaucratic procedures for obtaining different certificates and educational documents?
- Unfortunately, I can give numerous examples of absurd bureaucracy.
In general, confirmation of documents takes up to three weeks or a month. Those willing to get it quickly, have to pay RUB 90,000 in Moscow.
- Which countries train good/bad seafarers today, in your opinion?
- Seafarers from Croatia are good and strong but thee not many of them. As for the professional training of English seafarers, its level has sunk: they have lost interest to this profession. Seafarers from Ukraine are not very welcome as false documents are revealed in about 80% of cases.
- How much do seafarers earn in the global market today?
- Ratings, such as seamen and mechanics earn EUR 1,300 to EUR 2,500 per month while in a voyage. That is for those who have a professional experience. Otherwise, employers are even reluctant to offer EUR 500. Watch engineers earn EUR 1,800 to EUR 6,000-7,000 per month on chemical carriers and gas carriers.
Navigators on watch earn EUR 1,800 to EUR 5,500 per month, second mates – EUR 2,800 to EUR 6,000, chief mates – EUR 3,500 to EUR 7,000 (or higher in some cases). Masters – EUR 5,000 – 8,000 on the average and up to EUR 20,000 in some cases.
Everything depends on the type of ship and employer.
An average voyage lasts for four months with a intervals for two or three, sometimes four months. Ship owners do not favour long intervals.
- By Russian standards, those are quite high wages making the profession attractive. Is there a balance between the demand for seafarers and the supply?
- The wages are high, hence a great number of chancers. Many people exaggerate their experience and former wages. We had such situations and I have got thousands of examples.
As for the demand, shipbuilding industry is developing and the crews are getting smaller. Therefore, it is a market of employers, rather than employees.
- And unmanned ships are to appear in the future …
- I don’t think they will be crucial for the global shipping situation earlier than three decades. There are too many factors that should be taken into consideration. Besides, there are regions that are slow to introduce innovations while seafarers are ready to work all over the world. They stop being scared of Somalia pirates, for example.
- Are there many cases of employers’ cheating?
- There used to be many cases of that kind. When signing agreements with employers we thoroughly check their history of relations with seafarers and agents.
Greek ship owners seem to be the least reliable partners today. Of course, all Greek ship owners are different. There are large companies for which cheating is a shame but there are few of them. In general, unpaid work is quite normal for them.
When it comes to dishonesty, they are followed by English employers, strange as it may appear.
- How intensive is the protection of maritime trade unions?
- It is very intensive. They always protect the interests of a seafarer regardless of who he is: alcohol addict, murderer or smuggler. It is quite often that trade unions start petitioning crewing companies, ship operators, etc. having not made any insight into the situation.
- How often do crewing companies get involved in legal proceedings?
- We have been involved only once when a family of a dead seafarer was trying to make us pay insurance although we are not an insurance company. Of course, we won the action. Generally speaking, there are many stories when relatives of lost seafarers start “fighting” for insurance payments and try to involve us though we should not and cannot pay attention to seafarers’ private lives. As for insurance payments, they are quite high, normally over EUR 100,000.
So, crewing business requires special attention to all aspects.
Interviewed by Vitaly Chernov