This time of the year always gives a great opportunity to consider lessons learned and set new year’s resolutions for new beginnings. For that matter, Mrs. Sandra Welch, CEO, Seafarers Hospital Society, makes an assessment of 2021 and shares her message for the new year across the global maritime community.
SAFETY4SEA: How would you briefly describe 2021? What is your assessment?
Sandra Welch: If I had to describe 2021 in one word, it would be “urgent.” The year is almost at an end and COVID-19 continues to impact the world, particularly with new concerns arising with the Omicron variant. As the ICS, ITF, IATA, and IRU have pointed out, this is a return to increased travel restrictions and border control conditions that led to the crew change crisis, and evidences an unwillingness to learn from the last two years. Not only does this continue to affect the global supply chain, but it puts already exhausted seafarers at continued risk. This is disheartening and indicates that despite the rise in public awareness of the maritime industry and its role in keeping 80% of the world’s trade moving, there is still a lack of recognition of seafarers as people themselves, rather than simply abstract resources. There has been a great deal of advocacy about how to address this issue—by the IMO, transport unions, industry bodies, maritime charities, and seafarers themselves—but this has largely been left by the wayside yet again. As a result, seafarers remain both the unsung heroes of the pandemic and the invisible victims of the crisis. The need for our services and for those of the maritime welfare charity sector in general has never been greater, and the pressure seems unlikely to let up any time soon.
S4S: What were the lessons learned for the maritime industry in 2021 and what to keep for the new year moving forwards?
SW: The pandemic has led the maritime industry to look both within itself as well as outwards. In terms of outwards, there has been a concerted acknowledgment of the fact that in order to affect change and address issues such as the crew change crisis, need for vaccinations, and more, the industry needs to build more cohesive and impactful relationships with governments and government bodies. The value of a unified industry stance for negotiations around issues like the crew change crisis was a point made repeatedly through events like London International Shipping Week and The Future of Shipping at COP26.
Within the industry, there has been acknowledgement of the impact of the pandemic on seafarer health and welfare, and the likelihood that this will further impact the already present shortage in workforce noted in the 2021 ICS/ BIMCO Seafarer Workforce Report. There is a growing awareness that this shortfall within the maritime sector cannot only be chalked up to the pandemic but is the result of longstanding conditions within the industry that adversely affect seafarer health and welfare.
This is why we believe that this is a particularly valuable moment for the industry to recognize that the issue at hand extends further than the conditions of the pandemic, and are calling for the implementation of a ‘culture of care’ that ensures we get basics right and improve working conditions throughout the industry.
S4S: Focusing on your area of expertise, what do you think that will be the biggest challenge(s) for the industry in 2022?
SW: The pandemic is likely to be a continued reality in 2022 and we are still in the process of trying to vaccinate seafarers with WHO approved vaccines globally. With vaccines being in short supply in certain parts of the world, we must first acknowledge that in some cases we are still in the process of vaccinating seafarers for the first time while also coming up on the likelihood that some seafarers are likely to need booster doses soon. We must begin to proactively prepare for these needs. Additionally, we must ensure that seafarers are mentally and physically healthy, and this may involve finding stopgaps that address the worst effects of the crew change crisis if there is to be another rise in travel restrictions. This means considering how nutritious food can be made safely available, ensuring priority medical care when needed, and working within the industry to ensure that current lengths of seafarer contracts are not simply thrown out in the process. All of these are immediate concerns for an industry likely to be facing unprecedented challenges in 2022.
S4S: What would be the new year’s resolutions for your organization?
SW: With 200 years under our belt, our resolutions at Seafarers Hospital Society remain unchanged. We continue to remain responsive to the problems faced by seafarers and their families; to be pioneering in our approach to treatment, medical provision, and training; and, most importantly, to continue to be inclusive and non-discriminatory in the treatment of seafarers and the provision of opportunities.
S4S: What are you looking forward to in 2022? What would you be most glad about seeing changing in the maritime industry next year?
SW: We released the results of our report on our landmark study of maritime worker health initiatives, conducted by Yale University, in late November 2021. Having identified actionable plans for better seafarer health and wellbeing, our goal in 2022 is to partner with those in the maritime industry who would be interested in implementing meaningful change. We are currently in the process of speaking with interested parties and are very hopeful about potential outcomes.
S4S: If you could make one wish for the maritime industry for the year to come, what would you ask for?
SW: Echoing seafarer Yrhen Balinis when he spoke at the IMO 2021 Day of the Seafarer webinar, I wish that the maritime industry would stop romanticizing the resilience of seafarers. I mean this not only in terms of seafarers continuing to work through sometimes genuinely traumatic conditions within the pandemic, but also the use of seafarer resilience as a tool to derail or dismiss much-needed changes to working life at sea or ashore.
In order to attract the committed and talented workforce that we need, it’s important that we recognize seafarers as people and treat them well. My hope is that we move towards creating a culture of care—by this I mean a strategically sound system built on the advice of experts that ensures a holistic set of measures to address crew and company needs. This is what we at Seafarers Hospital Society are working towards in 2022.
- We need to repeat.. the solidarity we showed throughout the maritime sector with seafarers in need.
- We need to lose… our rigid preconceptions about how things used to be done and create systems that work for everyone in the present.
- We need to gain… more public awareness of seafarer realities and their role in the supply chain so they join our advocacy against travel restrictions harming key workers.
- We can succeed by… working to create a holistic and sound culture of care across the industry.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.