On the occasion of this year’s Day of the Seafarer on June 25th, our special column is dedicated to seafarers’ welfare and wellbeing, asking key experts how industry stakeholders can collaborate and support crew welfare with more initiatives, more projects and more tools.
s we are comforted with the challenges of decarbonization and digitalization, we need to think today how to equip the seafarers of tomorrow with the appropriate skills and prevent a widening skills and training gap. To ensure a seamless transition for the maritime workforce, shipping must develop an action plan and involve various maritime stakeholders through collaboration and social dialogue. But of course, in these discussions, seafarers’ welfare / wellbeing must remain key priority.
In that regard, we have asked many experts to provide feedback on the following question:
What would you like to see within the industry with regards to crew welfare & wellbeing in the next five (5) years?
Capt. Akshat Arora, Senior Risk Assessor, UK P&I Club
I envision a maritime industry that prioritizes and invests in the well-being of its seafarers and fosters a supportive environment onboard. Respect and recognition of seafarers’ vital role in global trade, better living conditions, and initiatives to promote their physical and mental health are all crucial for their overall success and productivity. By showcasing their success stories and providing diverse career paths with continued growth opportunities, we can elevate the industry’s profile and attract more newcomers. Furthermore, ensuring ethical employment practices, cultivating mentorship programs, and promoting diversity and inclusivity within the industry could help attract a wider range of talent.
Chirag Bahri, International Operations Manager, ISWAN
In the future, seafarers will benefit from advanced technology and improved access to resources, enabling them to excel in their careers at sea. The industry and welfare organizations must embrace these changes, not only through necessary technical upgrades but also by ensuring a dignified life at sea through the promotion of cultural diversity and inclusivity. It is crucial that every seafarer, regardless of nationality, has access to welfare facilities at ports and good job opportunities without any charge. Furthermore, fair treatment during any crisis at sea is equally essential. By prioritizing the well-being of seafarers and the satisfaction of their families, the industry can enhance crew efficiency and productivity.
Dr. Joanna-Eugenia Bakouni, HR & Training Manager, Epsilon Group | Course Director, Lloyd’s Maritime Academy
In the ever-evolving maritime industry, the winds of change blow with the promise of a brighter horizon for crew welfare and wellbeing. As we embark on the next five years, let us envision a maritime landscape that puts seafarers’ needs at the forefront, where their mental health is nurtured, their fatigue is alleviated, and their voices are heard. Some of the key-points that I would love to see addressed in the next couple of years:
- Comprehensive training programs and counseling services to support mental health, especially through collaborative initiatives with NGOs and the establishment of peer support networks
- Creating a stigma-free environment for seeking help, by promoting open dialogue and supporting confidentiality
- Improved fatigue management through enhanced scheduling systems and work-life balance
- Investments in onboard recreational facilities and internet connectivity
- Actively promoting inclusivity, diversity, and respect onboard ships
It is time to set sail towards a future where these main points flourish, supporting the resilient hearts that navigate our oceans. Together, let us hoist the sails of progress and embark on a voyage of enhanced wellbeing for all seafarers!
Ayse Asli, Port Captain, Innovator & Maritime Strategist
In the next five years, I would like to see significant improvements in crew welfare and well-being within the maritime industry. This includes enhanced safety measures, improved accommodation and living conditions, and increased mental health support. It is important to prioritize the well-being of crew members by providing comfortable living spaces, recreational areas, and access to mental health services. Additionally, promoting work-life balance through strict adherence to rest hours and flexible schedules can contribute to their overall well-being. Investing in training and career development opportunities, along with better connectivity and communication tools, can further support crew members. Nutritious meals onboard, diverse and inclusive work environments, and mechanisms for crew feedback and engagement should also be prioritized. Ultimately, by focusing on these areas, the maritime industry can create a healthier and more supportive environment for crew members, ensuring their welfare and well-being are prioritized by using the technology, innovation onwards to ESG goals.
Simon Bennett, Deputy Secretary General, ICS
Our seafarers continue to be unsung heroes and also the heart of our industry. Thanks to their hard work, we have managed to keep global trade moving during some incredibly challenging times. Looking to the future we absolutely need to see seafarer welfare and wellbeing kept front of mind if we are to keep pace with the changing landscape ahead. We need to see appropriate training in place to make sure seafarers can transport and use the green fuels of the future. We need to see seafarer health and wellbeing taken seriously, with up-to-date, comprehensive and easy to use guides being available on board such as the International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers. We need to address the seafarer shortage, and create an inclusive industry that welcomes everyone.
Yrhen Bernard Sabanal Balinis, Seafarer, Philippines
An increase in professionalizing of crewing personnel so that they can better support their seafarers on board. This can be achieved by approved training programs consisting of specialized courses like crew administration, crew welfare, handling crew complaints, and/or human resources which will lead to a ‘certificate of competency’ for crew administrators, supervisors, managers, and assistants. Seafarers have multitudes of training; the workforce ashore should also keep abreast to ensure that their crew are well attended. This is a move towards crewingat— an amalgamation of the words crewing and ingat (the Filipino word for care)— in other words, crewing taking care of their crew.
Walther Boon, Managing Director, MedAssist.online
All seafarers deserve a safe working environment including access to solid medical care which should be paramount. And yes, that includes mental health care. The men and women out at sea should be able to communicate freely with their family, friends and loved ones. Over the next 5 years there will be a lot of emphasis on environmental improvements in shipping and ships. And rightly so. I’d like and hope to see and make sure that -while the industry will invest hundreds of billions in ships and hardware- the industry will also invest in the health of the crews manning their ships. If you talk 2030, it’s all about optimization. Let’s make sure we also make sure our seafarers have access to great healthcare. Healthy crews sail efficient ships. And make sure we bring All Seafarers back Home – Safely!
Sophia Bullard, Director, Crew Health Programme, Thomas Miller P&I Ltd
I would like to see mental wellbeing training readily available for all maritime workers but particularly seafarers. Mental health first aid would be an excellent addition to the existing first aid training programme. There are some excellent initiatives already in the maritime industry. Initiatives such as the UK P&I Club sponsored WeCare by Mission to Seafarers WeCare Programme | Supporting Seafarers | The Mission to Seafarers, and ISWAN ISWAN | Mental Health Awareness Training for the Maritime Industry (seafarerswelfare.org) Mental health education can help focus individuals’ awareness both of themselves and others. It can contribute positively to a culture of support, empathy, care and understanding of fellow workers. This is particularly important in the close working environment experienced at sea where crew work, rest and socialise.
Elisabeth Calbari (MISCP), Neuropsychologist | Executive Neuroleadership Trainer, Founder, Self Balance
-Inspiring Innovations for Enhanced Crew Welfare & Wellbeing-
– Unleashing the Power of Neuroscience
In the maritime industry’s ever-evolving landscape, I am inspired by the critical and constantly evolving breakthroughs and needs that will shape crew welfare in the upcoming five years. As someone substantially immersed in this field, I firmly believe that integrating neuroscience principles in the daily operation of shipping companies will be transformative. Cutting edge technologies monitoring physiological and cognitive data provide real-time insights into crew wellbeing, making these priceless tools. This neuroscientific perspective enables personalized support, optimizing performance and resilience. Innovative leadership, grounded in neuroscience, fosters trust, empathy, growth and emotional intelligence, which have never been more needed in this capital-intensive industry. Understanding the brain’s plasticity, creates environments that nurture wellbeing and continuous development. Let us together embark on this inspiring journey towards a maritime industry that embraces the power of neuroscience. By leveraging these discoveries, we create an environment where every crew member thrives, setting new standards for outstanding performance, through a holistic wellbeing mindset.
Maria Carrera, Research Associate at the World Maritime University (WMU)
I would like to see more dedicated efforts to the development and application of diversity management tools and resources that take into account the unique nature of shipping. The highly diverse crews on board vessels need to be seen in a way that utilizes the advantages of this diversity for creating bonds and trust rather than driving social isolation and mental health issues for seafarers. Both shore and on-board management would benefit from 1) diversity awareness pieces of training, 2) dedicated initiatives to improve the working and living conditions on board, and 3) provision on mental health measures that have direct effects on seafarers’ families.
Danielle Centeno, Loss Prevention Executive, Shipowners Claims Bureau Inc. Managers of the American P&I Club.
My ideal future scenario would emphasize improving crew safety as an industrywide priority. Crew welfare and wellbeing cannot exist without ensuring the operational safety of the seafarer. We should support cutting edge technologies and develop hard and soft skill training for crews to wholistically improve the safety of commercial seafaring. I would also like to see the industry do more formal recognition of seafarers in the industry that better acknowledge their value, achievements, and sacrifices as that is vital for their motivation and wellbeing. Lastly, I feel strongly that we can enhance crew wellness with a greater emphasis on mentorship, camaraderie, and building trust. Like a family, we should aim to make the next generation the industry better than the last.
Katie Higginbottom, Head of ITF Seafarers’ Trust
One of the things I would like to see within the next 5 years is a serious approach to fatigue management which addresses the eternal issue of manning. It is widely acknowledged that fatigue contributes to poor mental health as well as risks of accidents, yet there is no agreement on how to determine safe manning levels and the whole industry colludes to manage the record keeping instead of giving seafarers some actual leisure time. Competitive advantage trumps seafarers’ rights to decent working conditions and that should change. Mindfulness apps are not the solution.
Güven Kale, Chief Clinical Officer (CCO), MHSS
Drawing from our extensive experience with seafarers, we firmly believe that contracts ought not to be excessively protracted. It is of utmost importance that all companies conduct psychological assessments of seafarers before deployment to ensure the safety and well-being of all crew members aboard. In the event of a mental health crisis, it is vital that all crew members receive basic training in motivation, leadership, and psychological first aid, as they are often the first to respond. It is unfortunate that maritime universities do not address these issues, as it creates difficulties for new seafarers in adapting to their profession. Shortly, we strongly advocate for reform in the industry, including shorter contracts, mandatory psychological assessments, and mental health training for all crew members.
Nikolaos Koletsis, Policy Officer for Maritime Transport, ETF
Seafarers have been pushed to the limit throughout the pandemic, finding themselves subject to strenuous working conditions with uncertainties and difficulties such as ongoing fatigue, physical and mental exhaustion, working beyond agreed working hours, and crew change and repatriation problems. Most of the unresolved issues before the pandemic remain today and are still of great concern for the future. The most important elements for enhanced wellbeing onboard ships, that we would like to see within the next five (5) years are:
- safe and secure working environment;
- decent employment and availability of jobs;
- equal opportunities and fair pay for all;
- no discrimination and seafarers to feel free of violence and harassment
- respect of human and social rights and requirements of the existing legislative framework;
- Seafarers to be able to stay in touch with family and friends (connectivity)
- Opportunities for better training and prospects for future career paths
- To be able to remain physically, mentally, and socially healthy”
Dr. Christian Angelo P. Lubaton, Medical Director for Holistic Care , Nordic Medical Clinic
Management exercises leadership and creates an environment for the seafarers to thrive not just to survive. The environment influences either positively or negatively a person’s well-being. Some examples: arranging operations giving Crew enough rest and sleep, healthy food provisions on board, access to professionals for onboard crew via telemedicine, etc. Life Skills training for seafarers, shore staff, leaders. Preparation is everything. Investing in Life skills training empowers people to make better decisions for their well-being and be equipped to help others as well. Everyone takes personal responsibility for their health and well-being: seafarers, shore staff, and management. Personal decisions are the biggest determining factor for health and well-being. My body is my responsibility. We can’t give what we don’t have. Take care of yourself, take care of others
Carleen Lyden Walker, Co-Founder/CEO, NAMEPA & IMO Goodwill Maritime Ambassador
Our mariners deserve the same benefits we enjoy—the ability to connect with our family and friends, recreate when we are not working, and access to health services when needed. To my consternation, what we consider “rights” on land are not universally available to our mariners even with the advances available to us in 2023 with connectivity. As an industry, we need to support universal connectivity for our mariners. In an era where there is a shortfall of qualified seafarers, with reduced numbers following in their path, it is imperative that industry support these necessities!
Johann Meyer, Managing Director, CSM Energy
Ship crews are key to the safe and successful operation of ships. Ensuring their well-being and welfare depends a lot on the way they are treated and managed. Our responsibility as ship and crew managers goes beyond the placement of seafarers onboard, a proper Human Resource management within the crewing services is a key to the happiness, retention and career development of seafarers. Planning of timely rotations and considering crew needs are among the strategies that contribute to crew wellbeing. Additional human-centric strategies should be further developed and hopefully rolled out widely in the industry such as digital banking solutions, modern training innovations, mental health support, professional medical advisory, insurance packages, nutrition consultancy, adequate accommodation on board as well as recreational facilities. The possibility to communicate with families and friends should be constantly available onboard and faster internet solutions should be provided. Within the Columbia Group all this is already lived but I would like to see it across the industry as a prerequisite to hire seafarers on ships. In parallel, diversity and inclusion must not only be a marketing campaign for the ESG reporting of shipping companies, but must be lived and brought forward.
Namrata Nadkarni, Founder & CEO, Intent Communications
Seafarers are the beating heart of the maritime sector, and we need them more than ever if our industry is to meet our commitments to fighting climate change. We must train these individuals to meet these future challenges, but also create an environment in which they can thrive. This means working to create human-friendly ship design, giving them proper internet access and support in case there is difficult or distressing news, making sure that they are well insured, properly rested and excited to be at work. We should revise the current work/rest system to be more sustainable for human attention spans – and ensure that there are harsh penalties for bad operators that do not follow the MLC requirements. We must create clear pathways for career development and ensure that our sea-going crew have avenues to feed in to corporate strategy – we NEED to listen to THEM! What I would really like to see is us treating seafarers as human beings and affording them dignity rather than thinking of them as machines or cost centres – as is often the case at present. I would love to see a maritime environment in which we are truly inclusive to people across the human spectrum – with different genders and sexualities all able to work onboard without concerns about being bullied or viewed as a token minority. We can work to be more disability friendly (particularly for shore based navigation) and it is long past time that we make the sector more welcoming of women – which requires a cultural shift
Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, President & Executive Director, The Seamen’s Church Institute (USA)
The recently proposed amendment to MLC2006 that advocated for free universal internet access for all seafarers at sea and in port fell short of its intended goal of ensuring universal access. This is unfortunate, considering our industry competes for labor from around the globe and depends upon its generational continuance. Notably, the population born in the last four decades perceives internet access as a fundamental human necessity. Our industry already recognizes this issue. Peer-reviewed research and anecdotal reports through seafarer surveys note the importance of Wi-Fi access to maintain morale. Connected at Sea (2020) found that “unhappy, detached, and dissatisfied seafarers can become unproductive and disengaged,” resulting in high turnover rates. Allowing seafarers to maintain close contact with family and friends enhances seafarer satisfaction. The Seafarers Happiness Index finds that “seafarers with access [to the internet] are happy, while those without it feel extremely frustrated.”Connectivity not only improves and sustains the mental well-being and overall health of seafarers but also provides them with access to telemedicine and mental health support and counseling even when they are far from port. As such, it is crucial for the maritime industry to fully address the challenge of internet connectivity within the next five years. Universal internet access will help retain and attract the next generation of seafarers, ensuring a happier, safer, and more productive maritime workforce.
Gina Panayiotou, ESG Manager, West of England Insurance Services (Luxembourg) S.A.
I would like to see environments on board resemble those ashore! Catering for more work-life balance, schedules and shifts needs to be managed better to allow for better sleep, shorter contracts, parental policies adjusted to these type of contracts, soft skill training and mental health trainings is also important. The most crucial element is for leadership to acknowledge that crew are not another type of employee and get experts in to help them apply the same approach in building support networks, mentorships, buddy schemes and soft skilled trainings for those at sea, as they would for employees ashore.
Gisa R. Paredes, M.A., RPsy, Chief Strategy and Commercial Officer, WellAtSea
I would like to see a less reactive industry and one that considers a valuable diagnosis of their situation to determine strategic steps in preventing the onset of mental and physical illness – both on shore and at sea. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are seeing a frantic response to the growing suicide problem, yet lack a sustainable framework that can support the mental and emotional aspects of the so-called “human element”. Where helplines are concerned, we know that utilization is extremely low. If we wait all day for more of them to call, we will not be using our time wisely. Instead, we need to move in the direction of being proactive and preventive in our mental health strategies instead. In the next 5 years, I would say, the industry needs a more strategic approach to the way it uses the parts of the whole, ensuring that all solutions are integrated for the betterment of all.
Rob Parkin, Business Development Manager, BazePort
Change in all aspects of life, let alone shipping, is inevitable. However, one thing remains constant – the critical importance of crew. Alongside exciting new technology and innovation, it’s imperative ‘crew welfare’ remains a priority theme for present and future focus. Not just as a conference-friendly talking point, but as a topic for genuine action, sustained investment and development! Digitalization presents new opportunities and challenges in meeting modern seafarer expectations. Our collective obligation is to continue enhancing the safety, engagement, physical, mental and overall wellbeing of crew. For its part, BazePort, a small piece in the overall maritime jigsaw, is committed and proud to help operators improve crew welfare by providing a powerful digital crew information and licensed entertainment platform.
Adam Parnell, Director Maritime, CHIRP
CHIRP wishes to see a substantial enhancement in the way mental health and physical safety concerns are identified and dealt with, particularly for seafarers who are women, from the LGBTQ+ community, or who are neurodiverse. In addition to our long-standing incident and near-miss safety reporting program (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year!), we are collaborating with various safety and welfare organizations to establish a global initiative to capture incidents of abuse, bullying, discrimination, harassment, and victimization. By documenting the scale, extent, and seriousness of these incidents, as well as safety-related issues, we seek to raise awareness and drive efforts to mitigate them.
Claudia Paschkewitz, Columbia Group’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion
First and foremost, of course, is always safety. To minimize accidents and injuries on board enhanced safety measures and training are required. This must be an ongoing process that also finds and analyses weak points to take appropriate measures. SAFETY FIRST is of fundamental importance and absolute priority at Columbia. This must be standard in the industry, just like the focus on mental health. I am pleased that with OneCare Solutions we are already offering our seafarers a complete health and wellbeing solution. This holistic approach includes of course free internet connection enabling our seafarers to stay connected with their families. The further development of communication technology in the next five years will certainly contribute to further optimization.
Capt. Alexandros Serpanos, Fleet Personnel Manager, Euronav Ship Management (Hellas) Ltd.
One of the challenges for seafarers is often feeling undervalued and unappreciated by the industry’s stakeholders (ship managers/owners) and society in general, and often criminalized by regulating/enforcing authorities. While at the same time, over 80% of the volume of international trade in goods is carried by sea (UNCTAD). Even when the above is not the case or has not omitted purposefully, the appreciation towards the seafarers’ contribution has not been properly and sufficiently communicated to them. The issue became more than evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when most countries did not treat seafarers as key workers of the worldwide supply chain and did not facilitate crew changes, resulting in extended time onboard or ashore with devastating effects on the quality of their lives. Therefore, in the next five years, I would like to see a robust and clear mapping of the benefits of seafarers’ physical and mental well-being onboard and ashore by each stakeholder. This benefits mapping should be actively promoted and implemented as part of the retention strategy. Retention in the seafarers’ worldwide workforce and subsequently retention in each ship owner/manager’s crew roster.
Natalie Shaw, Title- MBE Director Employment Affairs, ICS
Seafarer mental health remains a significant concern in the maritime sector. An increased awareness and support is still required. Stigma surrounding these concerns, limited access to appropriate professionals, and inadequate resources for addressing such needs, are common shortcomings. Seafarers may face isolation, long working hours, demanding schedules, and separation from their families for extended periods. ISWAN, in 2022, confirmed that 15% of all seafarers calling SeafarerHelp about mental health issues, experienced abuse, bullying, harassment or discrimination. Maritime stakeholders must collaborate to ensure comprehensive mental health support for seafarers. The ICS Diversity and Inclusion toolkit suggests ways to support crew wellbeing including counselling services, accessing mental health professionals, and training to mitigate and manage stress, isolation, and other psychological challenges
Capt. Gurpreet Singh Thandi (AFNI), Master Mariner, M.Sc. in Maritime Affairs, WMU
Modification of the company culture is essential. Recognising seafarer’s well-being with all its dimensions and incorporating it within the SMS of the company would be the way forward. Measurable performance indicators for well-being need to be established so that corrective / preventive actions can be taken accordingly. Amendments to ISM Code to include well-being within the company responsibilities would place a direct obligation on the company and would also ensure a level playing field. Furthermore, amendments to MLC 2006 to include well-being in its entirety would bridge the gap and provide an additional legal mechanism to safeguard the well-being of seafarers. The industry should invest in crew well-being to make seafaring an attractive career option.
Andrew Stephens, CEO, Sustainable Shipping Initiative
Increasing transparency surrounding seafarers’ rights is a must. Providing accessible information on solutions to grievances empowers seafarers and increases their confidence in reporting incidents. Emerging legislation, such as the Norwegian Transparency Act and the EU Corporate Due Diligence Directive, is encouraging this shift, but everyone has a role to play. Ship owners, operators, and managers are at the frontline of enforcing and implementing this to ensure a safe environment on board. Demand-side stakeholders can also play a powerful role by setting clear expectations on their portfolio, supply chain risks, and required due diligence. Verification and rating organisations can widen their focus to include seafarer welfare, generating greater accountability throughout the supply chain.
Nichole Stylianou, Training Coordinator /Dietician Nutritionist, MCTC
To prioritize the human element even more, such as ensuring seafarers have good internet access onboard. All aspects of our lives involve digital connection especially for communicating with our families; therefore, as such it is important to ensure proper internet onboard for seafarers. I would also like to see an Improvement in nutrition and wellbeing. Educating and providing guidance regarding balanced healthy eating and healthy living will benefit their overall health while onboard. Receiving proper nutrition that includes balanced nutritious meals, that include all vitamins and minerals, will improve both their physical and psychological health, as well as enhancing their immune system. We should also ensure practices are in place to ensure crews stick to their scheduled working hours and have proper rest times for downtime and sleep.
Capt Yves Vandenborn, FNI, Director of Loss Prevention, NorthStandard
Governments need to be firm in their endorsement of the UN’s resolution to designate seafarers as key workers. Only with key worker status can seafarers be accorded additional protection and support, exempted from local and international restrictions, thereby enhancing their realities onboard ships and facilitating crew changes and shore leave. Following on the latest Seafarer Happiness Index Q1 2023 results, it is apparent persistent issues continue to frustrate seafarers and these are translating into a brain drain that might prove tricky to reverse. With an utmost sense of urgency, the industry must review guidance on all facets of seafarer wellbeing, on mental, social, and physical wellness, if we want to maintain safe and heathy work environments on board ships.
Sandra Welch, CEO of the Seafarers Hospital Society
While much of the recent focus in data tracking in maritime is aimed at assessing and improving operational efficiency for vessels, there’s significant benefit to be had from similar data tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess crew welfare and wellbeing across our sectors. This would afford us the opportunity to estimate where healthy and robust policies are leading to beneficial change, and where additional efforts need to be located — allowing us to replicate successes and avoid potential pitfalls in the future. Doing so will not only contribute to improved seafarer welfare and wellbeing, but also afford our industry a documented and evidence-based means by which to demonstrate ESG and DEI commitments to external stakeholders, financial institutions, governments and industry bodies, and end users.
Revd. Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General, The Mission to Seafarers
Of vital importance to us and to seafarers is the assurance of their consistent access to shore leave, as well as guaranteed and unobstructed access for our welfare teams to ports and ships. Future maritime welfare will include critical digital elements, to which we will contribute, including through our recently launched Happy-at-Sea App. However, there will remain no substitute for face-to-face port welfare provision, including relevant seafarer centres and professional ship visitation which must include skills to provide the best in mental health support. Strong and effective partnership between the industry and maritime welfare charities, both in terms of operational needs and financial backing, will be vital. Beyond port working, maritime welfare will include complementary programmes such as our own Family Support Networks.