Ship managers and operators need to keep promoting efforts targeting both the physical and the mental health of crew onboard, experts of a dedicated panel on crew welfare argued during the last SAFETY4SEA Forum.
tarting the discussion, Dr Kate Pike, Director of Projects, Field-Research Ltd, who has led a lot of research projects with regards to crew welfare and recently along with ISWAN (SIM project) – she is focusing on the social interaction onboard, highlighted the importance that social wellbeing plays to seafarers’ life onboard.
Continuing, Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, Standard Club, noted that the Club has been involved with the issue of crew welfare for many years, with the publication of bulletins and working closely with Maritime Charities. In this context, they have acknowledged a number of key issues, highlighting the need to shed our focus on recognizing seafarers’ valuable contribution, enhancing their social life and addressing issues such as the use of internet and alcohol onboard.
When talking about crew welfare, we need to make sure that we have the necessary tools provided, added Mrs. Emmanolia Kolias, Channel Director, Mintra. Mrs. Sandra Welch, CEO, Seafarers Hospital Society said that her organization focuses on awareness and prevention of issues to keep seafarer fit and healthy while they work at sea but also as they move into retirement. In that regard, they tackle with issues such as mental health, dental hygiene, musculoskeletal disorders due to the repetitive nature of work at sea, cancer awareness and cardiovascular health and disease.
‘’I really believe there is great potential to improve seafarer health and wellbeing and low-hanging fruit with changes that can be made quite quickly and with little expense or disruption to current practices and yet substantially improve seafarer health and mental health as well.’’, Mrs. Welch stated.
‘’Long time ago, a Captain said to me that happy seafarers are safe seafarers and happy seafarers are good seafarers.’’ Revd. Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General, The Mission to Seafarers shared to highlight how important work maritime charities do towards seafarers’ wellbeing.
‘’The problems associated with the pandemic were huge and more recently many seafarers both Ukrainian and Russian and many others, have been deeply stressed by events as result of the Ukraine conflict. There has been a particularly bleak time’’, Revd. Wright commented; however latest Seafarer Happiness report shows considerable improvement across all areas, which is very encouraging, he mentioned.
There is no room for complacency, I am really pleased the industry is taking welfare with a new degree of seriousness which has been very welcome. I am really glad that seafarers have achieved enhanced visibility as a result of the pandemic.
…Revd. Wright said, highlighting that shore leave, connectivity, resilience, training should be focus areas.
Lessons learned from the pandemic
‘’There is a silver lining to the pandemic; it was a really bad period for seafarers, there has been a lot of hardship but the silver lining is that finally we have the proper spotlight on the importance of mental well-being for seafarers’’ Capt Vandenborn noticed and reminded there are still issues with shore leave and repatriation.
Crew welfare has always been in the agenda. But if we, let’s say, split the agenda into three tiers- top, middle and bottom, now we have moved the topic on the top tier. That said, crew welfare has now become a priority item
…Mr. Apostolos Belokas, Managing Editor, SAFETY4SEA pinpointed.
In addition, Mrs Kolias referred to another aspect that came to surface: ‘’Another key area is how we do training and development. A lot of provisions within the STCW Convention force seafarers to go into classrooms for certifications, which this was not possible due to the pandemic. So, the pandemic paved the way for new methods of training ‘’
The fact that seafarers kept the supply chain undisrupted during the challenging times of the pandemic proved that are resilient. However, Mrs Welch brought to the discussion another aspect of what we think on this issue: ‘’Resilience can actually hide a number of issues, like working overtime or excessive overtime, which can lead to fatigue and other implications. Pressure of resilience of the crew can also sometimes hide systemic issues which I think we need to look at when we talk about crew welfare.’’, she explained, suggesting to improve the culture of care and build on the successes.
‘’Maintaining the priority that has been given to seafarer welfare is very important.’’ Revd. Wright stressed and noticed that other lessons learned were the importance of providing broad connectivity onboard and free wi-fi for communication and how to handle seafarers’ families in a crisis.
We should build on the successes made so far during the pandemic and treating seafarers as key workers; this is a well-deserved title given to them during covid but it shouldn’t be a meaningless title.‘
Challenges & Opportunities
The pandemic brough a nice opportunity to make sure that everybody who is onboard, even the master, need to know how to recognize when someone does not feel all right, Mrs Kolias stressed. On the other hand, a key challenge now is how to retain the skilled workforce and attract new talents into the industry, Mrs Welch added.
‘’I think the industry is currently facing a kind of skills crisis at the moment, particularly made worse by seafarers who have decided not to return to sea because of the pandemic and the difficulties they experienced as well as the geopolitical conflicts that we are experiencing in the world, which probably haven’t helped at all’’ Mrs Welch said to highlight that we need to work harder to make shipping an attractive working environment for the young people, develop digital and green skills and place wellbeing on top.
‘’One of the key challenges from my perspective is around fatigue. It is one of the constant areas we pick upon in the SIM project and it showed that the pressured work schedules pose danger. There is a constant danger of fatigued crew that are overloaded with the work and the stress of not getting of the ship.’’ Dr Pike added.
There is a blurring of work and leisure time onboard and these both need to be much more clearly defined so that seafarers get rest and reset recuperation time. Obviously, there is regulation but there is often a bit of flexibility on that issue in the reality’
Dr. Pike also said.
According to Revd. Wright, shore leave remains a major challenge. ‘’The fact that we are getting more and more Wi-Fi onboard now is going to pose a challenge for shore leave, particularly when people have small amounts of time to spend ashore.’’
”We keep seeing in the press the importance that seafarers are putting on having connectivity onboard to be able to connect with their families and read the news, but the flip side of having all that connectivity onboard is that you bring all the problems from the shore side onboard’’ Capt Vandenborn noticed, explaining that this would put a barrier on social life onboard.
We need to find balance between how much connectivity we need and how we can educate the seafarer about the importance of limiting that connectivity so that they still do have time available for the social aspects onboard as well
…Capt Vandenborn suggested.
On the other hand, Mrs Welch argued: ‘’I think it is a balance that we need to find in our lives in general, whether we work ashore or onboard; I think the internet and connectivity is with us, it is a functioning part of our lives. I don’t think that we should limit connectivity onboard any more than we should limit it for the people in our offices.’’
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