Maritime infrastructure underpins the global economy and the supply chains, including food and healthcare, that livelihoods depend upon. The industry has a direct impact on much of the common person’s everyday life. For centuries economic prosperity of nations has been linked to trade through the sea. Shipping’s ability to offer economic and efficient long distance transport puts it at the centre of the world economy. Some 11 billion tons of goods are transported by ship each year. This represents an impressive 1.5 tons per person based on the current global population.
In the past few years, the shipping industry has experienced a massive expansion in demand reflecting the growth in volume of seaborne trade. This has directly resulted in more ship staff requirement onboard thus putting tremendous pressure on seafarers’ work life balance. Life at sea has in general been challenging, added to that in the recent years the mounting pressure from third parties while in port along with internal audits, SIRE and CDI inspections have caused the seafarer life to become even more difficult and severe rest hours violations. While the world was gripped with Covid the last few years, this caused extended tenures onboard for the ship’s crew and in many cases extended periods at home causing loss of salary. Unable to go ashore during this time has created a plethora of problems and a sense of demotivation.
Time for change?
- Are companies providing adequate support to the crew while onboard and once on leave?
- Is there sound HR policy to ensure proper work-life balance?
- Do companies have a crew welfare department to take care of crew’s needs?
- Is mental health issues taken seriously by the companies and are the crew compensated for loss of salary in case of such issues faced?
- Do companies reward loyalty and give ship staff a feeling of being recognized for their efforts?
- Is the seafarer adequately insured all round the year?
- Are rest hour violations at sea being covered up to ensure good reports during audits and port state inspections?
- What happens to the crew if found medically unfit, are they still paid?
- What action is being taken in cases of stranded seafarers and where does the buck stop?
- Do companies respond in a timely manner for medical emergencies at sea?
Having been a seafarer myself for over 15 years, I can tell you the average person will never have a chance to understand the extreme conditions a seafarer goes through. Not only does a seafarer work in all weather conditions but also spends an average 4-6 months away from home during each tenure onboard. Being away from home for months on end many a time without the possibility of going on shore leave does take its toll and can finally in turn cause life long health issues.
Mental health awareness
There is an urgent need for companies to make seafarers undertake mental health awareness courses and also health evaluation not only at the time of joining a vessel but also after sign off to understand their level of fatigue and stress. Growing job demands for seafarers have an impact on their physical health and psychological issues such as turnover intention, job dissatisfaction levels, reduced motivation levels, feeling of being unwanted and in some cases cause a variety of mental health problems: stress, depression, burnout, and, at its worst, suicidal ideation.
This has always been a taboo topic, often swept under the carpet, but not anymore. Just like all other industries and job sectors, an increasing number of seafarers are facing mental health issues. This becomes even more of a challenge since ship crew have contracts ranging from 4-9 months and are hence left unidentified over a long period of time. Hence the need for medical health including mental health check up even after they are home. One can only imagine the disastrous consequences if the mental health issue is unidentified and the staff allowed to resume work onboard after their holiday.
It’s time for companies to take action and treat all seafarers as valuable resources. Considering the surge in shipping and global increase in ocean-going vessels its only natural that we may be looking at a situation where we will be faced with a paucity of skilled seafarers if we do not take timely action. Crew need to be rotated such that they spend sufficient time at home without having a fear that if they do not comply with companies urgent requirements to join a vessel they may face a longer waiting period at home. For this the senior shore personnel need to step to pave the way to ensure job security for the seafarers. Companies need to hold regular seminars to ensure interaction with the shore staff. Outstanding seafarers should be rewarded for their contribution.
There needs to be a minimum mandatory guideline for ship owners and technical managers set by regulatory bodies for operating vessels with regards to crew welfare. Ship owners should make it a priority to ensure proper resources are allocated to the training and development of ship staff. This must be viewed as an important investment for firms’ future success and not as an unnecessary expense. Well reported staff should be prepared for promotions and given adequate guidance to ensure a smooth transition thus. Ship staff should be empowered and allowed to give their feedback and inputs to improve the company’s procedures, this in turn will lead to new ideas and a fresh perspective.
Capt Shawn Sequeira FICS,AFNI
Commercial Operations Manager, Sumitomo group
Shawn also volunteers for ISWAN, European region.