Commander Graham Hockley, Chairman of the Maritime Charities Group (MCG) highlights that with regards to EDI issues (Equality, Diversity, Inclusive), the maritime industry is lagging behind. In this context, a new mindset is needed; industry stakeholders should not regard EDI as another box-ticking exercise while robust strategies and policies will assist in ensuring equal opportunities for all.
urthermore, Commander Hockley explains how MCG contributes to welfare, fostering collaboration for over 10 years between maritime welfare charities. In 2020, MCG published a new standard for mental health and wellbeing training while they are currently exploring digital tools that can improve life onboard.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the key priorities in your agenda for the next five years?
Graham Hockley: MCG was set up over 10 years ago to foster collaboration between maritime welfare charities (MWCs) for the benefit of the seafaring community. Our role is not directly to support those in need, but to help those who do the frontline work to improve their understanding of the problems experienced by seafarers and their families and develop better tools to address them. Over the next 5 years we have a huge challenge to meet the welfare needs of seafarers past and present – and we can’t do it alone. Identifying those issues that we can tackle together and working together to resolve them makes it so much more achievable. Whether that’s researching the needs of potential beneficiaries or working together to identify unmet needs, collaboration continues to be top of our agenda.
Collaboration was very much the focus of our conference this year. Our speakers came from all corners, including government, industry, academia and the charitable sector. The message was clear – collaboration is the key and we need to carry on doing more together. But we also need to understand more about our beneficiaries and what they need from us. That’s why our work on demographics is so important. We’re looking again at our seminal piece of research from 2007, Supporting Seafarers, which has been widely used by MWCs and others to understand the needs of seafarers and target their services accordingly.
We also have a new project on caseworking that is just getting off the ground. Historically the system has relied on caseworkers but they are getting older and numbers are dwindling. Combined with a backlog from Covid, the system is under pressure. There have been considerable improvements from SSAFA and RBL who provide most of the caseworkers but there is room for further collaboration, for example sharing research and understanding of beneficiary needs. There’s also an opportunity to improve use of digital tools amongst seafarers and if we collaborate on this, we’ll get a better outcome. This too was a topic of huge interest at the conference.
S4S: What is your organization’s approach towards crew welfare? Do you have any projects/ initiatives you would like to share?
Gr.H.: We’re not directly involved in crew welfare, but we do help the maritime welfare charities who operate in this area. For example, in 2020 we published a new standard for mental health and wellbeing training, developed by a cross sector working group including mental health practitioners, training providers, academics and MWCs. The standard has been adopted by the Merchant Navy Training Board who publish it on our behalf. It’s used by MWCs who offer training in mental health and wellbeing for seafarers to check that the training courses they commission are tailored to meet the needs of this unique group. That’s an excellent example of how collaboration across a wide range of interest groups can work to the benefit of seafarers.
We also responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by establishing a training fund for seafarers who had lost work due to the pandemic. Over the course of nearly two years, the MCG Redundancy and Retraining Bursary Fund helped over 100 UK-based seafarers with the cost of training to stay in maritime. It was extended in March 2022 to meet the needs of P&O ferry staff but has now closed. The scheme was funded to the tune of around £50k by three MCG members: Trinity House, Merchant Navy Welfare Board and the Nautilus Slater Fund.
S4S: What are currently the hurdles/ challenges for enhanced crew welfare onboard and what needs to change to enhance working and living conditions onboard?
Gr.H.: There are many ways in which working and living conditions can be improved. MCG member the Seafarers Hospital Society specializes in health and wellbeing and they have been working with academics at Yale University to identify the efficacy of different interventions. SHS recently published a discussion paper ‘Seafarers’ health: On Course for a Culture of Care’ which sets out possible key performance indicators for ship owners and operators to measure the effectiveness of their work in this area. We look forward to sharing the learning from this important piece of research. Another significant issue that impacts on seafarer welfare is reward for work done. Here MCG member ITF Seafarers’ Trust takes a particular interest.
S4S: What are the benefits that digitalization brings in for people onboard?
Gr.H.: Digitalization is incredibly important. It leads to better communications and helps those onboard to keep in touch with friends and family. But there is a downside – it can encourage individuals to retreat to their cabins, reducing crew interaction and increasing loneliness. So it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.
S4S: What are the next steps/ trends in a post pandemic shipping with regards to physical, mental and social wellbeing for people onboard?
Gr.H.: Working at sea is one of the most dangerous and physically demanding jobs you can do. So, the physical health issues facing seafarers are unlikely to be any different than they were pre-pandemic. Seafarers suffer a significant proportion of musculoskeletal injuries due to the physical demands of the job, so access to preventive treatments such as physiotherapy will continue to be important. But the last few years – in terms of mental health – have been especially tough. I hope we’ll see new ways of providing vital mental health and crisis support, including the use of digital tools to help those who need it most. In the meantime, MCG member the Merchant Navy Welfare Board has provided SIM cards to Ukrainian seafarers to help them keep in touch with their loved ones during this tense and worrying time.
S4S: What actions should we take to collectively create an inclusive and attractive industry for the future generation?
Gr.H.: As a sector we’re definitely lagging behind on this issue. The session on EDI at our conference was incredibly well received so we know that the appetite is there. But it’s not just a box-ticking exercise. We need to make sure that everyone feels welcome, included and safe in our industry. We can help achieve this by implementing robust strategies to make seafaring diverse and inclusive, including policies to ensure fairness and equal opportunities for everyone.
S4S: If you could change one thing about the shipping industry, what would it be and why?
Gr.H.: We need to improve the standing of seafarers and make this a profession that’s valued so that men and women from across the globe want to go to sea and want to make a career at sea. The status of seafarers certainly went up in the eyes of the public during the early days of the Covid pandemic, but that was short lived. And it didn’t prevent seafarers being treated badly. Whilst Covid is being managed better that it was two years ago, the problem certainly hasn’t gone away – in fact it has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. So, the one thing I want to see is that recognition of their worth is ingrained, not just a flash in the pan.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders to further support our seafarers?
Gr.H.: Seafarers are an asset that the shipping industry needs. They should be trained and valued accordingly.
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.