German seafarers: Jobs with a future

The high quality of the maritime services offered by German companies remains a decisive competitive advantage that other nations rightly envy as well as a key to the future viability and competitiveness of the country’s maritime economy. Companies, educational institutions and policymakers are called upon to collectively ensure that Germany is and remains a competitive shipping hub. We should do everything in our power to keep attracting young people to pursue a career in maritime shipping.

To operate a modern vessel in an economical and eco-friendly manner, you need seafarers who are excellently trained, highly qualified and motivated. Working on board has become a lot more complex, and the demands have increased. Anyone who has been a captain on a merchant ship is also extremely qualified for higher management positions on shore. And the same holds equally true for a chief engineer. It has been shown that, in the long run, boosting the qualifications of marine personnel can also maintain and create high-quality jobs on land. Those who train marine personnel benefit the entire maritime cluster. This particularly (though not only) applies to the training of employees at sea and on land in order to tackle the pressing challenges of digitalisation and decarbonisation.

To ensure that this remains the case, the partners in the so-called “maritime alliance” have agreed – and enjoy broad-based political backing, including from the Germany’s federal parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) – to facilitate the best-possible training and employment in the country on a long-term basis. Just how seriously shipowners take this alliance is shown by the fact that, despite a long-lasting shipping crisis since 2013, they have been willing to make substantial financial contributions of their own to promote training, qualification and employment in maritime shipping. In recent years, these combined contributions have annually amounted to roughly 20 to 30 million euros, which have particularly been paid to the Stiftung Schifffahrtsstandort Deutschland (a Hamburg-based non-profit foundation to promote Germany as a shipping location), but also to the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) for significantly higher flagging-out fees.

The success of the various government measures and of this foundation’s activities is reflected in the numbers of apprentices and employees in the maritime professions who are subject to social security contributions in Germany, which have stabilised overall despite the long-lasting crisis – even though the total number of vessels registered in German registers has declined considerably over the last decade. The share of ships and tonnage in the German merchant fleet operating under German flag has also been stabilised since the optimised support measures were implemented, and it has recently experienced a slightly upward trend again. In parallel with the government measures, German shipowners support the non-profit foundation’s efforts to ensure that crew members employed on ships registered in German shipping registers and flying the flag of Germany or another EU member state receive the proper nautical and technical training and qualifications. 

To preserve maritime expertise in Germany and perhaps even be able to strengthen it further in the future, it is essential to offer shipping companies a tax scheme that is reliable and at least on a par with international standards. Given these circumstances, a key prerequisite for maintaining and enhancing Germany’s status as a shipping hub is and will continue to be the method of determining taxable income for merchant vessels according to the tonnage of a vessel (so-called tonnage tax), which practically all major shipping locations worldwide offer in one form or another. It will also remain an essential pillar going forward.