Seafaring: A dying trade?

Seafaring has been declining in popularity since the 1980s.

Captain Ken Yeow, the executive director of Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), said the average career length of a seafaring officer decreased from 15 years in 1970 to 12 in the 1990s. And today, that figure is a mere eight years.

WMI is the maritime training arm of the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union.

The 54-year-old seafarer, who has been in the trade since he was 20, said the trend is worrying because the industry contributes about 7 per cent to Singapore's gross domestic product.

There are a number of factors that have caused the decline, he said.

"Many young people do not want to stay so long out at sea away from family and friends. In addition, they may not be used to the tough living conditions on a ship," Captain Yeow said.

Another reason is that maritime training institutes are still taking more traditional approaches towards training.

Captain Yeow said: "I have had many cadets tell me that they feel very insecure about what they have learnt in the classroom as they do not have enough practical training.

"Institutes should focus more on applied learning, in line with technological advancement. Bearing this in mind, WMI will continue... to develop the Singapore core and to develop future leaders in the maritime industry."

Lastly, the response to wage enhancement has been slower compared to other trades. Fortunately, the introduction of the Maritime Labour Convention last August has addressed most of these issues.


With this, changes were made to address issues such as living conditions aboard ships and disparity in wages compared to other trades.

Nowadays, ships serve better food, have recreational facilities and better cabins, Captain Yeow said.

He added that wages for seafaring officers have doubled in the last 10 years, when a typical industry usually sees a maximum of a 50 per cent increase in the same period.

When asked about the effectiveness of the changes so far, Captain Yeow said that the outlook seems more favourable now.

"I can only see things improving from here," he said.