In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Mr. Martin Foley, CEO of Stella Maris, highlights that seafarers are among the heroes of the pandemic and the charity will continue its work to ensure seafarers receive support and assistance. Mr. Foley acknowledges the significant efforts that our industry has already made with regards to crew welfare and encourages us to focus on the many positive stories rather than allow the negative ones to dominate the headlines.
urthermore, Mr. Foley notes that priority should be given to shore leave for seafarers, not only to improve their physical and mental health but also to enhance the appeal of seafaring as a career and thus aid recruitment and retention.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the top priorities in your agenda for this year?
Martin Foley: Stella Maris’s overarching priority for 2022 is to further improve and expand our support for seafarers in ports around the world, building on the progress made during 2020/21 when we re-established our work in Denmark and provided significant help to seafarers in the Philippines, India and elsewhere whose lives had been adversely impacted by the pandemic. Seafarers are among the heroes of the pandemic. Working with our industry partners, we are determined to ensure seafarers receive the support and assistance their critical work merits.
S4S: From your perspective, what are the key challenges that the maritime industry is currently facing? What are your suggestions to move forward?
M.F.: National priorities have overridden international efforts to designate seafarers as keyworkers. Seafarers need full and unfettered access to vaccines, an internationally recognised vaccine passport system and timely, efficient repatriation at the end of contracts. The scourge of abandonment must also be addressed. Abandonments have increased during the pandemic. The impact on the seafarers involved, and their families, is immense. Concerted action is required.
S4S: What lessons has the industry learned with the pandemic? Where should we improve for a future crisis situation?
M.F.: The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of international collaboration between UN agencies, governments, industry, unions and welfare charities like Stella Maris. As a result of Covid-19, the mechanisms are now in place to ensure a swift response in future crisis situations. Stella Maris welcomes the opportunity to play our part in bringing the voice of the seafarers to these international forums.
S4S: Are you satisfied with industry stakeholders’ response on the issue of crew welfare until today? Where should ship operators focus on and how could your organization help towards?
M.F.: There are some excellent organisations in the shipping industry who care deeply about the welfare of the seafarers operating their vessels and with whom Stella Maris feels privileged to work. They have made strenuous and often expensive efforts to repatriate those finishing their contracts, to effect vaccinations in foreign ports and to generally improve seafarers’ lives through increased connectivity, better food, and a greater focus on physical and mental welfare. Let’s acknowledge where work needs to be done but let’s also focus on the many positive stories rather than allow the negative ones to dominate the headlines.
S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in enhancing its safety performance? What should be the next steps? How can we further enhance safety culture onboard?
M.F.: Lonely, depressed, tired and unmotivated seafarers are more prone to accidents and self-harm. Improving mental and physical health through regular shore leave, increased social activity, internet connectivity, improved food and facilitating more frequent contact with families, are all ways in which the onboard safety culture can be enhanced.
S4S: As we move forward, how do you feel the challenges of digitization and decarbonization will impact the way that we provide training to seafarers and the skills required by seafarers in order to operate ships?
M.F.: Seafarers take great pride in their work and their contribution to society. Consequently, they welcome opportunities to enhance their skills through improved training. Digitization and decarbonization are inevitable but not antithetical to seafarers’ welfare. Seafarers are skilled professionals. Stella Maris is committed to communicating this more clearly across industry and beyond.
S4S: Considering the ongoing humanitarian crisis (due to the pandemic) and recent accidents (i.e. Ever Given), how may the young generation think of the shipping industry? How should we work to raise industry’s profile to the next talents?
M.F.: Most of the seafarers Stella Maris encounters enjoy their work. Working in partnership with the industry, we need to amplify their voices and experiences. If we want to raise the industry’s profile then we must emphasize its professionalism. This means improving access to shore leave, internet connectivity and welfare support services. These are all things that the young generation takes for granted. Failure to ensure their availability risks a talent drain elsewhere.
S4S: If you could change one thing in the industry from your perspective, what would it be and why?
M.F.: Part of the appeal of a career in maritime is the opportunity to build a professional career that allows one to experience life in other countries and other cultures very distant from one’s own. Increasingly short turnaround times and the effects of the pandemic have meant seafarers get little or no experience of the places they visit. Priority should be given to shore leave for seafarers, not only to improve their physical and mental health but also to enhance the appeal of seafaring as a career and thus aid recruitment and retention.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders in order to enhance crew motivation and competence during these challenging times?
M.F.: Shipowners, management companies, P&I Clubs and flag states cannot be everywhere and do everything. I would encourage them to partner with and access the global resources of Stella Maris. We add personal, pastoral and spiritual enrichment to seafarers’ lives and remain absolutely committed to working in partnership with the shipping 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.