For many years, the Odessa Subsidiary Company Uniteam Ukraine has been in the business of recruiting seafarers for major shipowners. The agency recruits Ukrainian seamen to work on container ships, bulk carriers and multipurpose vessels. About a year ago, Uniteam became Crew Manager of recently built ships from a new Asian client. According to Maksym Kostin, the Director of Uniteam Ukraine, the growth in the agency’s clientele has led to more employment opportunities for our seafarers.
Professional Seafarer: What are the types of ships that the seafarers who provide your crewing services work on?
Maksym Kostin: They are mostly container ships carrying 1.000 to 8.500 TEU. One of our European clients gave us full management control over two handysize bulk carriers. After signing an agreement with our new Asian partner, more than 20 bulk carriers of the same class have been included in our base. These are brand-new ships built in shipyards in China and Japan.
Professional Seafarer: What are the conditions of work offered by your partners to Ukrainian seafarers? What are the usual contract terms and wages? Are there any bonuses?
Maksym Kostin: Every shipowner has its own wages scale. All I can say is that all our employers offer approximately the same average wages to officers for work on container ships and bulk carriers alike. The same applies to the contract term. It is usually four-plus-one months for officers. The topic of bonuses is another matter. Employers have various methods of incentive, and our new Asian partner China Navigation applies effective practices in this regard. The longer you work for the shipowner, the larger are the contributions that are transferred to your pension fund.
Professional Seafarer: In view of your experience, do you think shipowners are handling the current economic crisis well?
Maksym Kostin: Unfortunately, not all shipowners are able to handle economic difficulties. Larger companies with their own fleet, terminals, permanent cargo lines and cargo traffic are better equipped for that. These shipowners can develop their business and invest in building new ships, which are designed in view of the specific cargo line and logistics. For instance, our Asian partner has developed a business plan for building log carriers: modern timber carriers with the specifications of a handysize bulk carrier. Such a fleet has a multipurpose nature, given that, depending on the season, ships may be assigned to other cargo lines, meaning that their functional capability is not limited to carrying logs. These log carriers trade on the cargo line Australia-New Zealand-China and, during seasonal declines in demand for timber, log carriers operate on other lines, for instance, South Africa-USA-Japan, where they carry salt. Log carriers can also transport bulk cargo like grain.
In view of the current situation in the international cargo shipping market, not all companies enjoy such a strong position in order to develop their business and build new ships. We try to select reliable and reputable shipowners as our partners. For instance, we have been working with a number of major German companies for a long time. And we apply the same measure of prudence when assessing the quality and reputation of our Asian partners.
Professional Seafarer: What are the specific features of working on various types of ships?
Maksym Kostin: Training is required to work on a log carrier. The ship is fitted with stanchions used to secure logs, and one needs to know how to do that. Uniteam and shipowners jointly hold intense training courses for seafarers who have no experience of working on such ships. We send them to Burma where a special simulator has been built. It simulates a cargo hold where seafarers learn how to secure cargo under the supervision of experienced instructors. A special training programme has been developed for engineers, who are taught to operate electronic engines and electric cranes.
Professional Seafarer: What is the minimum rank requirement for these training courses?
Maksym Kostin : Mostly, we are talking about the top five: master, chief officer, chief engineer, second engineer and electrical officer. There is also an efficient mentoring programme, such that, for the first voyage, the senior officers, master and chief engineer employed by the company take various training courses for two months, including two weeks’ training on an operating vessel of the same type. The seafarers’ travel costs and training expenses are covered (at a basic rate).
We have received feedback from the crews who have completed their first contract term on new ships built in China. They say the ships are of good quality, with excellent equipment and quality living facilities. Obviously, these shipowners are investing in their own development.
Professional Seafarer: What kind of seafarers does your company look for?
Maksym Kostin: We look primarily for the top five ranks, i.e., senior officers. We also recruit cadets holding certificates of competency for to work on bulk carriers, both deck cadets and engine cadets. If they are recommended for promotion, they are trained further for employment as the fourth officer or fourth engineer. Regarding the new ships for which we provide crew management services, we recruit from among our experienced seafarers, i.e., those whom we have recruited before. They have a certain advantage since they have worked with our other employers and the shipowners know them. All I can say is that everyone is happy working for China Navigation and ready for any new employment with them. People see opportunities and stability there, they see that the fleet is growing and they can earn high wages.
Our partners have high-level requirements in terms of personnel, so we follow a fairly strict recruitment procedure when selecting seafarers with the top five ranks. It is preferable for navigators to have experience of working on handysize bulk carriers or large ships of other types. A good command of English is a must. Candidates must pass various psychological tests and English language proficiency tests. The next stage is an interview on Skype with a quality manager or superintendent, who will check the professional knowledge of navigators, while a technical superintendent interviews engineers. If the seafarer successfully passes these stages, the next step is training in Singapore or China, with the courses depending on the type of ship he will work on and his job duties.
Professional Seafarer: Are there many Ukrainians in your clients’ crews?
Maksym Kostin: Our new Asian partner has been working with Ukrainian seafarers for over 12 years. According to their report for 2015, they have twice as many Ukrainians in their crews as seamen from Europe or Russia. Regarding the ships for which we provide crew management services, we have officers from Eastern Europe and ratings from Myanmar. Ukrainian seafarers have a good track record and companies are ready to enlarge our footprint in the market. Clients of Uniteam Marine strive to hire more Ukrainians on their ships. For our part, we will do our best to ensure that employers are happy with Ukrainian seafarers.