MSC is seeking to hire South Korean seafarers for the first time, a move that has raised eyebrows in the Asian country.

The Swiss-Italian liner operator’s recruitment advertisement appeared to be making a dig at South Korean flagship carrier HMM by stating that it wants seafarers with experience of manning very large container ships (VLCS).

HMM is the only South Korean liner operator with VLCSs in its fleet, and MSC is offering a salary 2.5 times that of what the former company is known to pay seafarers.

The advertisement coincides with a salary dispute between HMM’s management and the company’s labour union. Shore-based staff resent that despite record 2020 profits, their salaries were increased by a token amount after being frozen for eight years to 2019.

An HMM spokesperson told Container News that the company could not comment on MSC’s recruitment advertisement, but said that HMM’s management is working to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the labour union.

South Korean media reports stated that even after HMM recorded its best-ever result in 2020, staff salaries were upped by 2.8% on average, far below the 25% employees hoped for.

MSC did not respond to Container News’ request for comment.

While there has been speculation that massive orders for container ships, especially VLCS, could mean a shortage of experienced crew, InterManager’s Secretary General, Captain Kuba Szymanski, told Container News that ongoing crew change difficulties amid the Covid-19 pandemic are to blame.

He stressed that in the Philippines, the largest source of seafarers, the number of seafarers allowed to transit the airport in Manila has been greatly reduced. India, which contributes 12% of the world’s seafarers, has also been badly hit by Covid-19.

Capt. Szymanski stated, “In a regular month, outside of the pandemic, this would be 42,000 (in Manila airport). Today, it is less than 50% of that.”

Air travel costs for seafarers have escalated because airlines are imposing additional levies, besides testing and quarantine requirements.

Capt. Szymanski said, “If this cost is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that it might be cheaper to employ someone local rather than pay a lot of money and also spend a lot of resources on sourcing, flying, testing, quarantining crews from outside of South Korea.”

Source: Container news