Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, seafarers work and live under challenging conditions onboard. Among others, this situation revealed that we should never loose focus of wellbeing and take anything for granted; in that respect, feedback is vital; how do people onboard feel? How could we improve their lives and working environment at sea? Crew welfare is a top issue and latest SAFETY4SEA survey calls maritime industry stakeholders to consider it as a key priority in order to turn the tide.
Seafarers are the unsung heroes of our industry who are responsible for keeping the world supplied with raw materials, fuel, food and goods, including vital medical supplies. Albeit the unprecedented challenges and global restrictions, they work tirelessly around the clock to support global trade, even with extended contracts and without shore leaves.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made many of the seafarers feel physical and mental exhaustion, anxiety and sickness while the mental health issues appear an alarming increase. What is more, hundreds of people were denied medical care ashore, which is breach of international law according to the UN’s International Labour Organization’s committee of experts. This is the reason why we are talking about an ongoing humanitarian crisis for which industry stakeholders struggle for designating seafarers as key workers and be prioritized for vaccination in an effort to resolve the crew change crisis soonest possible.
In this context, during 2021Q2 & Q3, SAFETY4SEA ran a global crew welfare survey, asking from people onboard and ashore to provide feedback on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted work and life at sea. Participants were asked to answer questions that cover the following key aspects of crew welfare: Wellness; Communication on Physical/Mental health / Covid-19; Wellbeing Factors During Covid-19 ; Covid-19 Impact and; Happiness.
The survey questionnaire was answered by a total of 14,768 Seafarers, serving on board 1,241 Ships. The majority of nationalities came from Asia and Europe and the majority of participants were from Philippines (48%). Other countries with high participation were Ukraine, Greece and Russia.
We are pleased to present the key findings of our SAFETY4SEA Crew Welfare survey and highlight that we should never take seafarers’ wellbeing issues for granted but always struggle to accomplish the best conditions for their life onboard. It is now time to shed our efforts on a holistic approach that will take into consideration all aspects of crew welfare.
… commented Mr. Apostolos Belokas, Managing Editor, SAFETY4SEA.
- Despite a high satisfaction level among crews, the pandemic had severe impact on seafarers who felt that both their health and wellbeing have been affected.
- The majority of the participants felt that their companies handled the crisis successfully with respect to information and COVID-19 updates provided onboard.
- The most regularly seen complaint from seafarers was poor Internet connection and communication with people ashore.
- The majority focused on the need for mental support onboard and shore leaves.
- Particular attention was given to ways to enhance mental, physical and social wellbeing (i.e. schedule meetings for resilient best practices, improve recreation facilities and nutrition, organize activities onboard).
With regards to crew satisfaction, the survey revealed that ship age and type play a significant role. Overall, male seafarers appear to be more satisfied than females. Filipino seafarers were the most satisfied and Indian seafarers the least satisfied nationality groups. 16-25 is the most satisfied and >60 are the least satisfied age groups. Catering department is the most satisfied, followed by engine and deck department, respectively. Also, officers seem to be less satisfied than ratings. Crews serving on tankers are generally the most satisfied, while crew on containers are the least satisfied. Overall, the most satisfied seafarers serve on Gas Carriers. The most satisfied seafarers are male seafarers, Stewards, 36-45, onboard Passenger Ships of ship age 6 -10 years old while the less satisfied seafarers are female seafarers Deck Officers, of age group 26-3, serving on Containerships aged 11-15 years old.
Key areas of concern
In open feedback questions, the participants identified that the following key items need to be addressed thoroughly for immediate solutions:
- Increased Work Load
- Shore Leave Issues
- Food/Water Quality-Quantity
- More focus on safety issues onboard
- Need for increase in salary and bonus
- Contract termination/Repatriation
- Improvement in health care system
- Need for mental support on board and more focus on keeping human factor resilient
- Improvement in the recreation facilities onboard
- Free Internet to enhance communication with families/ friends
Several seafarers highlighted that affordable means of communication, i.e. free internet data package, would improve the communication with their beloved ones ashore and subsequently their wellbeing significantly. Also, the survey revealed an increased concern for both physical and mental health of seafarers.
There were many respondents who touched the issue of focusing more on social life onboard and investing in team bonding with team activities, i.e. karaoke nights, BBQ Sundays onboard, games. Furthermore, many participants asked for a healthier nutrition rich in fruits and vegetables, recreational facilities and gym equipment for exercise.
Other major complaints were issues related to human factor (training on mental health issues, resilience meetings, mental health support by experts etc) and health care system (onboard and ashore health support). What is more, several participants highlighted how important is for the ship management to check crew feelings and their mental health on a timely manner and suggested medical insurance to the family onshore.
Contracts termination/ repatriation and shore leave were also among seafarers’ high concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and crew change challenges. In open feedback questions, many respondents described how stressful the current situation is – a simple headache of fever can make the whole crew worry – and wish operations to return to normal soonest possible.
Also, many were those who asked the whole crew to get vaccinated as well as to be provided with COVID-19 protection equipment such as facemasks and surgical gloves and highlighted the importance of training to get informed about latest updates regarding the pandemic.
Other issues that need to be addressed were related to MLC issues, such as financial support, suggesting also extra support and COVID-19 bonuses due to the pandemic, work load and food/water quality and quantity.
Overall, crew welfare issues are being successfully addressed according to the Crew Welfare Index of the survey which remains at a high level 71,35%. Although, the wellness issues (related to aspects of social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing) show a high satisfactory level for crew onboard, seafarers felt that the COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on their wellbeing and especially in their mental health due to uncertainty and their workload as a result of extended contracts and crew change challenges.
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