While the end of the COVID19 pandemic is still hard to predict, the incidence of serious cases has decreased and the impact on economic activity seems to have waned considerably, thanks to the high uptake of vaccination. We have seen many countries easing their border control, which has greatly helped lower the hurdles to crew change. And yet, the situation is still unpredictable for both shipowners and seafarers, as we face another crisis from the conflict in Ukraine, which began in February 2022. This has posed serious issues for the shipping industry in various ways, including humanitarian considerations for Ukrainian seafarers, such as their repatriation and continuous embarkation beyond their contract. Securing seafarers to replace them has also been another issue.

Under these circumstances, we will continue to make every effort, however large or small, to resolve the problems faced by our member companies and their seafarers. The understanding and cooperation of the relevant industry bodies, trade unions, and in some cases, government agencies of the countries concerned are essential to these efforts. We will continue to maintain good communication and exchange information with them, and share useful information with our member companies in a timely manner to help their operations.

The pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have also affected our activities in two main areas. The first is to negotiate with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and its affiliated trade unions in the framework of the International Bargaining Forum (IBF), to establish working conditions for foreign seafarers on board FOC ships in the Japanese merchant fleet. The second is to provide training and welfare to foreign seafarers, using the funds that form part of the wage scale agreed in the IBF negotiations.

Regarding the first, the IBF central negotiations are scheduled to start early next year (2023). This is to revise the collective bargaining agreements which are valid until the end of 2023. The entire negotiations will take almost a year, including the regional ones whose discussions are based on the outcome of the central negotiations. We anticipate the negotiations to be tough for both unions and employers, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine greatly impacted both shipowners and seafarers. We will be well prepared for the occasion.

Regarding the second, various training courses are delivered in Manila mainly for Filipino seafarers, who make up about 70 per cent of the foreign seafarers in the Japanese merchant fleet. Maritime education for cadets is also offered in the Philippines at the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), which educates and trains future seafarers for our member companies. Shipboard training using the MAAP training vessel Kapitan Gregorio Oca is also included in their program. The pandemic has hampered the delivery of training and education, but they are gradually returning to a state of near-normal and we intend to accelerate this trend. In parallel, we would like to work on introducing new training courses while consolidating / rationalizing existing ones in the light of changing needs of our member companies as the industry responds to environmental requirements.

Our efforts to negotiate amendments to the IBF-related agreements, to provide training and education, and to develop welfare through funds we jointly manage with the unions, are rooted in our desire to ultimately attract talented foreign seafarers to the Japanese merchant fleet. This will ensure continuous safe operation of Japanese merchant vessels. At the IBF negotiations, we will take the ship owners’ point of view, as well as pay attention to that of foreign seafarers to achieve what will be acceptable for both sides regarding not only wages but also other working conditions. For training and education, we will ensure to deliver them in a fair and effective manner, with the needs of our member companies being reflected. Seafarers’ welfare will also be developed, with the cooperation and understanding of the All Japan Seamen's Union. Through these activities, we would like to continue contributing to the securing of excellent foreign seafarers and the maintenance and strengthening of safe operations of vessels.

While there is no end in sight to the dire situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine, IMMAJ would like to keep responding to the needs of our members in a flexible and speedy manner, based on the principles of transparency and fairness. I would be grateful for your continued understanding, support, and cooperation.

IMMAJ Chairman: Toshihito Inoue