COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that the world has recently encountered but it surely is the one that we had much more digital support around. With mobility limitations leaving seafarers stranded and with port restrictions severely limiting port-based welfare, COVID-19 unveiled technology as a means to enhance the people’s performance instead of the means to replace people, experts agreed during an Inmarsat event on the sidelines of London International Shipping Week 2021 in September.
mid a precarious situation surrounding crew changes, adaptations needed to be made to how seafarers’ training and welfare were delivered. The maritime charities stepped up to the plate and continued throughout these challenging times in helping seafarers both face-to-face (or more accurately, mask-to-mask) and with new digital services, the audience heard during the Inmarsat Crew Welfare Day event at LISW 2021.
If COVID-19 has done one thing, it has been to act as a catalyst bringing the whole mental health debate to the fore and to emphasize across the sector the importance of people to organizations. As such, preemptive and proactive mental health support is now critical to any organization going forward, whether a shipowner or an oil major, whether in the shipping sector or outside of the sector, said Mark O’Neil, CEO & President, Columbia Shipmanagement. If it has done another thing, it has been to help the transition from concerns on potential socialization implications of unlimited connectivity onboard to the idea of Internet as a basic human need.
Widening the concept of wellness
There were two things that all the speakers agreed: The first was that the debate regarding the impact of COVID-19 to mental health should not only be focused on people onboard but also employees ashore.
I think it’s a mistake solely to focus on our crew in this debate covid has brought huge pressures to bear on all of our people within our organizations those ashore and onboard
…said Mr. O’Neil.
We’re all humans, we are suffering the same strains the same considerations. The guys in the offices are finding it very difficult to separate their work life from their personal life; don’t forget these guys have families to go back to and many of them are working in the same place as they’re living their sleeping and so the impact upon them upon their families upon their relationships is significant and so whilst it is a problem which shares a lot of commonalities with those at sea
…said Christian Ayerst from MHSS.
On her part, Mrs. Sara Baade, CEO, Sailors’ Society noted that wellness is much wider than mental health; it includes also physical and spiritual health, as well as the wellness of people’s families and the financial situation.
Digital has a really important role to play…but I think first of all we need to look at it as a holistic sort of around what welfare is really all about
Digital wellness requires Internet access
The second was that providing unlimited Wi-Fi to seafarers must be a given in this technology era.
Digitalization is vital to enable charities and wellness organizations to help seafarers, but a big problem currently is that seafarers do not really have an Internet access, noted Mrs. Baade, citing a Nautilus International survey which showed that only 57% of seafarers have access to satellite phones and personal emails and fewer and fewer can go on to social media sites and only 6% have video calling facilities.
A big problem with digital is that so many seafarers don’t have access to Wi-Fi. I mean that’s been a major issue that is a key need we need to get seafarers they need to have free strong access to Wi-Fi and that’s obviously got to be a key driver within the industry
…added Andrew Wright from The Mission to Seafarers.
The mental health support in older days was far from the sophisticated mental health support services that we have today, continued Mr. O’Neil, but added he was very surprised to hear that, up to this day, not all ship operators are providing their crew with free and unlimited Wi-Fi which is “absolutely vital”.
Communication and wellness
A main point to watch with respect to communicating wellness issues is that shipping is a highly fragmented industry, which has created barriers to improvement and prevented sharing of learnings across sectors, noted Dr. Grahaeme Henderson OBE, Chair of Together in Safety.
On his part, Mr. O’Neil pointed out that complicated issues require complicated help and stressed the need to talk about collaboration at within our support services, “so that each one is not fighting against the other but we’re working together: We’re putting professional psychologists alongside priests going onboard with the support of organizations like Inmarsat.”
A problem shared is a problem halved. Half of the mental health issues onboard our vessels and in our offices stem from communication and the absence of communication in this technical technological age and if we address that, we address half the issues that we have…I think unless you have had that need and unless you are willing to openly talk about that need you don’t really get it and I think more and more people are getting it which is a great thing and a great step forward for our industry
We never really know what’s going on in the on the vessels unless we ask the people who are there and how are they experiencing it
…said Catherine Spencer, CEO, The Seafarers’ Charity.