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The EU Maritime Profile - seafarers

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The Human Element is today a key issue within the maritime safety framework. Seafarers working on board seagoing ships have to hold documents - the so-called certificates of competency or endorsements attesting the issue of a certificate - that confirm that the lawful holder was found competent or authorised to serve on board in the specified capacity or capacities, in line with the requirements established in the appropriate legal framework.

The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) is one of the key instruments used here.

Masters and officers are of paramount importance to not only ensure safety on board ships but also guarantee passengers and goods are transported safely from one port to another. Therefore, it is of upmost importance to know how many of them are available to serve on the EU flagged vessels.

This is achieved by the STCW Information System, a system developed and managed by EMSA, that on an annual basis receives information extracted from the EU Member States plus Iceland and Norway seafarers’ national registry systems on their issued certificates and endorsements.

After all that information is treated to ensure its harmonisation, accuracy and reliability, EMSA publishes an annual statistical review report that presents a snapshot of the European maritime labour market. Reports have been published since 2014 and are available at

Although it cannot provide numbers on employment of the certified seafarers, the STCW-IS is able to detail the number of masters and officers holding a valid certificate and/or endorsement entitling them to serve on board EU flagged vessels by specific categories of data such as the ones below.

This section looks at the relevant data on masters and officers, the gender gap in shipping, the age distribution, the variation of available masters and officers along the years and the top five extra-EU nationalities.

Number of masters and officers available to serve on EU Member-State flagged ships

To become a master or an officer on board a ship flying an EU Member State flag, you need to follow specific educational paths which, if successfully completed, allow you to hold certificates issued by certified maritime education and training institutions. EU Member States must recognise certificates issued by other Member States, as well as those issued by any other State in the world, provided that the education, training and certification received comply with the requirements of the STCW Convention.

To ensure that their ships are properly and safely manned, shipowners of EU Member State-flagged ships may choose to recruit from among more than 300,000 masters and officers, holding the relevant competences. One-third of these masters and officers hold certificates of competence issued by non-EU states and endorsed by EU Member States.

Gender distribution

Shipping is still a predominantly male activity, especially on board. However, if we look at masters and officers certified in the EU, the percentage of women is slightly higher (2%) than of those certified in non-EU countries and holding endorsements issued by EU Member States (1%).


The availability of certified masters and officers has been increasing throughout the years (+21% from 2014 to 2018), allowing more EU-flagged ships to be properly manned. The number of masters and officers  certified by EU Member States grew slightly more (+22%) than the number of those holding a certificate issued by a country outside the EU, and endorsed by EU Member States, during the same period of time (+19%).

Nationality of non-EU masters and officers

Most certified non-EU masters and officers holding both a certificate of competency and an EU endorsement are Filipinos (11,5%), Ukrainians (7,4%), Indians (6%), Russians (5,1%) and Turkish (1,6%).

Age distribution

Masters and officers are almost equally distributed among each age group regarding EU certified seafarers, whereas for non-EU certified masters and officers the distribution is more towards younger ages