Access to adequate information is among the key issues for seafarers who remain onboard during the pandemic. In many cases, seafarers do not know what is happening and don’t receive proper information on the pandemic.

This may happen due to poor internet connection. But even when there is efficient connectivity, the pandemic is a fruitful ground for fake news, so it doubtful if the information they are receiving through social media is valid.

This was the key point of discussions among Capt. Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention at Standard Club, Mr. James Bean, Managing Director at The Standard Club, and Ms. Caitlin Vaughan, Project Manager at ISWAN, during a Standard Club webinar, part of its Seafarer Wellbeing Series. The online meeting focused on several aspects of crew wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond, including the importance of adequate information.

Even though not all the ships have WiFi onboard, shipowners could provide additional means of communication to the seafarers to contact their family, the speakers stressed.

I do think that ship owners or managers should make sure that they are open with seafarers, let them know really what is happening in the world, how it is affecting their sighting of what the owners are doing about it and try and give them a little bit of comfort that way,

…said Capt. Yves Vandenborn.

Moving to other wellbeing factors as highlighted through ISWAN’s 24/7 helpline for seafarers, the enhancement of social interaction onboard is more important than ever, noted the speakers, as thousands of seafarers remain onboard having their contracts extended due to disruption of crew mobility.

But while there are many ideas and initiatives for boosting crews’ social life onboard, the starting point for shipowners is “to talk to crew, see how they are getting on,” noted Ms. Vaughan. Another important step for ship-owners is to do what they can to avoid conflict, even more at these times when everyone’s tension is really high, she added.

Any kind of issue can create an even toxic environment during these times, stressed also Ms. Vrushali Paradkar, Psychotherapist & counsellor at Raffles Medical, during a recent webinar organized by The Nautical Institute. So, seafarers who remain onboard should draw attention to:

  1. Make routines, which creates a sense of safety;
  2. Boost emotional resilience, which is extremely important to flourish
  3. Support each other, ensuring they stay on the same page: having a brief talk on how was their day.
  4. Respect boundaries; Getting along does not mean
  5. Eating well and staying healthy.

From their part, shipping companies should focus more on feedback, which is very essential to makes the individual feel valued.

Crew changeovers and repatriation is of course at the center of concerns of crew lately as seafarers ending their travel are unable to return home due to COVID-19 restrictions. IMO does not have the power to declare seafarers as key workers; this is on the individual flag state. Although ISWAN’s calls during the COVID-19 crisis do not only come from seafarers stranded onboard, the great majority of calls lately did regard repatriation concerns, said Ms. Vaughan.

We know that crew changes are getting possible, and slowly the countries are opening up. Some companies are finding ways but this is up to discussing with your local government, draw the attention to the IMO guidelines and push them to assist you with the crew change,

…suggested Capt. Yves.

Availability of medicines is another concern that has come up, as highlighted earlier also by ITF, even though not to a great extent. Seafarers demanding access to long-term medication have contacted ISWAN helpline, but lack of connectivity could impede provision of these helplines, the speakers noted.

So, what can be done for seafarers to be resilient and mentally strong now and post pandemic?

Talking about mental health is another critical issue, going beyond the current crisis,

…the speakers agreed.

Ms. Vaughan proposed several ideas at a government, organizational and individual level:

  • The industry should provide confidential support, such as dedicated helplines, for seafarers who need it.
  • Training is very important to enhance preparedness for cadets as well as senior staff.
  • Look at ways to increase awareness on mental health and make seafarers understand when a colleague is maybe struggling and how to respond to these.
  • At an organizational level, shipping companies should develop creative policies and procedures to improve mental health.

On his part, Capt. Vandenborn emphasized:

  • The need for an open communication between the seafarers and the company about what is happening, not just the pandemic.
  • That seafarers need to know that they can talk to their ship managers and not to be afraid talking about these topics.
  • That seafarers need to improve their socializing onboard, if they want to improve resilience.

I think with the bigger diversity of cultures that we have onboard ships, it has become a lot more difficult to socialize and I think that is something that needs to be focused on,

…he concluded.