25 October 2016
The average age of First Ferry's seamen is 60. Photo: Internet
The average age of First Ferry's seamen is 60. Photo: Internet

Aging crews may force ferry operator to sail into the sunset

In the Popeye cartoons, the hero, Popeye the Sailor Man, is a young, strong and masculine guy with muscles that grow stronger after he eats spinach from a can.

But in Hong Kong, most of the sailors who work on ferries are from the silver-haired generation.

New World First Ferry Services Ltd., the operator of four of the main licensed ferry routes in the city, said the average age of its front-line seamen is 60.

The firm’s franchises expire in 2017, and it said there is a possibility it will not renew them because of the imminent shortage of manpower.

Anthea Chau Suk-man, the firm’s corporate communications manager, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal the company has about 360 employees, including captains, sailors and pier workers.

Most of them are over 55 years old and will retire within a few years. 

By 2017, the average age of First Ferry’s workers will reach 63.

“Even if we win the contract and continue to operate the licensed ferry routes, I am afraid we might not have enough seamen to run these routes by that time,” Chau said.

First Ferry has tried various ways to attract young people to the industry.

For example, the ferry operator aimed to hire rehabilitated convicts, minorities and disabled people last year.

However, the response was tepid.

The relatively unattractive compensation package is the crux of the issue.

The monthly salary of a junior seaman is about HK$9,000 (US$1,160).

A junior seaman should have six years of working experience before he can be promoted to captain.

Meanwhile, he has to pass the Coxswain Grade 3 examination.

The income of a captain is about HK$20,000 a month.

It is not that youngsters refuse to work on vessels and ships; they just don’t want to join the ferry companies.

Young seamen prefer to work on private yachts, as the pay is much better, at HK$15,000-HK$20,000 per month, and the work is easier, Fan Keung, director of the Small Craft Workers Union, said.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 6.

Translated and adapted by Betsy Tse

[Chinese version 中文版]

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