Where do the world’s mariners come from? A look at the international supply of seafarers

Where do the world’s mariners come from? A look at the international supply of seafarers

Believe it or not, most mariners don’t come from countries like the United States. When looking at the international supply of seafarers, the overwhelming majority of those who man the container ships and tankers that sail the world come from places like the Philippines, Russia, India, China, Ukraine and Indonesia.

There are many reasons for this. Of course, the relatively low pay these mariners demand compared to their Western counterparts is one. It’s important to note, however, that seafarers from countries like the Philippines still get paid decent wages when compared to their fellow citizens.

But there are also many other reasons, aside from pay, that dictate where the international supply of seafarers comes from.

Many countries that supply seafarers have many miles of coastline and (naturally) have strong seafaring traditions. As a result, seamen from these nations don’t tend to get homesick, and their families and friends understand why they do what they do.

To give you a better picture of where the world’s mariners come from, let’s take a closer look at global manpower numbers:

What countries supply the most seafarers?

BIMCO’s 2016 manpower report provided an in-depth analysis of the international supply of seafarers, from a national perspective. The report says that China now supplies more seafarers than any other country, although these figures may have changed as of late.

workers on a ship

Of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers, China supplies the most officers, while the Philippines supplies the most unlicensed mariners. The Philippines trails China slightly in the overall global supply, followed by Indonesia, Russia and Ukraine. India is also an important source of labor for international shipping companies.

Interestingly enough, the report also said something that should alarm seafarers from any country. It forecast a future shortage in the international supply of seafarers.

In fact, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) commented on the report, saying that efforts to recruit and retain seafarers need to be made, otherwise there is no guarantee of having an abundant supply in the future. Some governments are already making these efforts.

Governments compete for international share of seafarers

While China might have the most seafarers in terms of sheer numbers, Chinese mariners aren’t quite as prevalent in international shipping as Filipino seafarers, for instance. Of course, national policies have a lot to do with any country’s competitiveness in terms of the supply and quality of maritime labor.


Countries have an interest in ensuring their citizens are gainfully employed. India for instance, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has introduced measures to compete with the Philippines for a greater share of the international supply of seafarers. Organizations in India convened a new task force last year, led by the country’s Director of General Shipping. The task force has already recommended changes to India’s maritime examination system, as well as continuous improvement of training facilities.

Interestingly, India has also granted tax exemptions for merchant mariners. The exemptions apply if seafarers are aboard foreign vessels for more than 182 days a year.

Of course, the Philippines has its own measures for retaining its key role as an international supplier of merchant mariners.

The Maritime Industry Authority in the Philippines has pushed for a 10-year development program that aims to grow the computer skills of Filipino seafarers. As ship management and navigation technology evolves, these skills will become vital for maritime employees throughout the world. Creating a nation of well-educated seafarers can increase any country’s competitiveness on the world scale.

Want a deeper understanding of how the maritime industry works in other countries? Join Out2Sea today and start communicating with fellow seafarers from around the world.

Scroll Up