Working in shipping is a highly demanding job, and seafarers face many challenges, sleepless nights, long working hours and uncertainty surrounding how long they will spend onboard vessels. During the Covid-19 pandemic, awareness of these issues came under the spotlight, with many companies offering support to seafarers in the form of mental health training, industry initiatives and now guidance and opportunities surrounding their skill set.
New York maritime tech company Seafair has developed a platform to assist seafarers to be correctly matched up with jobs and tasks that ensure their duties best reflect their skill sets. The platform matches seafarers to shipping companies via an algorithm that holds data on their background, skills and performance onboard a vessel.
We speak to Agapitos Diakogiannis, founder, and CEO of Seafair to find out more about how this technology works, and how the industry can get involved.
How it began
The complementary crew software technology developed by Seafair was created after its founder, Agapitos Diakogiannis, moved to the US to join FJ Labs – a venture capital company in New York City. While working there Diakogiannis noted that there was a new wave of digital labour marketplace technology within the oil and gas industry which allowed contractors to be selected and vetted carefully before being given tasks and job roles. Given his background in shipping, Diakogiannis began exploring what this technology could offer for the maritime industry.
“I saw a new wave of digital labour marketplace in traditional industries like construction, manufacturing and oil and gas. I saw start-ups using data and technology to vet labour and found this exciting,” he says. “Given my interest and background in shipping, I started exploring whether a digital labour marketplace made sense in the maritime industry.
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“I spent three weeks in the Philippines working with local manning agencies and talking to several seafarers. The processes I saw and the stories I heard, convinced me that maritime crewing, and the actors involved in it can benefit a lot from technology and data.”
Since its launch in late 2020, Seafair has already acquired several clients including a top 100 shipping company. Currently operating in five locations – New York, Berlin, Athens, Odessa and Manila – the company aims to build a diverse, inclusive and transparent culture and community for its workforce and seafarers alike.
How does it work?
Seafair collects data on seafarer backgrounds, their skill sets and performance on vessels. This data is then input into the software algorithm which allows shipping companies to match the individuals to the most relevant vacancy depending on their skill set.
To get started, seafarers are required to create a profile on the Seafair platform where they can upload certificates and sea service documentation. From there the system then runs background checks on the uploaded documents to ensure that the information is correct and validated. Once verified the seafarer’s information will go live on the platform, allowing shipping companies to view the profile.
The software algorithm matches the seafarers to the most relevant vacancy advertised by shipping companies based on vessel specifications as well as the specific criteria of individual shipping companies.
Diakogiannis explains: “Our shipping clients are given access to our platform, where they can review vetted seafarer profiles. Our clients can schedule interviews on the platform, and when they want to hire a seafarer, they can generate digital contracts and complete the hiring process within minutes.”
The technology also gives shipping companies access to seafarer data in all stages of the hiring process. Once hired, the shipping company can continue to use the platform while the seafarer is onboard via digital contracts, work schedules, payments, training sessions and appraisals. The technology also allows a seafarer’s training process to be restructured, allowing them to prepare for promotion to higher ranks better and faster.
This digitalised information allows the shipping company to keep track of all the information and store it in one place.
“Gathering all this data is extremely important for shipping companies, not only because it helps them automate back-office work, but mostly because it gives them transparency when they need to make a crewing decision,” Diakogiannis says.
The shipping industry struggled to stay on top of seafarer management due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of seafarers became stranded onboard vessels and many were tasked with unfamiliar duties and felt overwhelmed with the workload. Could digital platforms such as this be the way forward for the industry?
Technology such as the platform developed by Seafair allows seamless communication to be developed between shipping companies and the seafarers themselves which is vital for the overall running of the vessel.
“Our thesis is that crewing is and has to remain a human-centric function in shipping. The technology we’ve built around seafarer vetting promotes transparency and ensures that the seafarers who deserve the best opportunities will be able to get them,” Diakogiannis says.
Another important benefit of the technology is a reminder function when a seafarer’s certificate is due to expire, or when a rest break is coming up, which is vital for the overall mental wellbeing of seafarers, as highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
To support crew members’ mental health, the technology allows for a reward system to be put in place. The system recognises high-quality and hard-working seafarers so the shipping company can recognise their hard work and motivate seafarers who may not feel acknowledged for the contributions they make during their careers at sea.
Seafair hopes that more leading maritime companies will partner with the company to optimise their crew management operations and skillset-centric means of hiring.