The pandemic has radically changed our lives; now everyone wishes for life to restore to normal, but we all know that the post-COVID era will have no resemblance with the past. With the vaccinations now occurring across the globe, health officials are optimistic about the outbreak, but the pandemic won’t be over anytime soon. So what that means for shipping? What changes have been affected and what should we expect in the near and long term?
Guests of the inaugural CAREER4SEA Talk, Iris Baguilat, President, Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila) Inc., John Dolan, Deputy Director of Loss Prevention, Standard Club and Gisa Paredes, Chief Operating Officer, WellAtSea discussed about the new trends in the post pandemic industry.
This is part of a new series of virtual talks introduced by our team with the aim to debate on industry’s existing and future key challenges, covering four topics: safety, smart, green and career within shipping.
Industry reaction to the pandemic: where we stand
With regards to crewing, Mrs Baguilat informed how her organization reacted to the new crisis. Being located in Manila, there were amongst the first to hold remote offices but they had a lot of planning emergency as back up, in case of business failure.
‘’We’re still following the most stringent of physical distancing protocols. The pandemic has become our biggest technological disruptor and it has accelerated all our plans. We have all shifted to digital technology, including using different social media platforms to connect with our customers, the seafarers and the principals. ‘’ Mrs Baguilat explained.
Gone are the days of the recruitment with physical presence and gathering of all applicants. There are no longer any events to connect with stakeholders in the industry in situs, commented Mrs Baguilat, saying that nowadays the process has been transformed to align with the developments.
‘’Our pre-joining briefing and training are done digitally also to avoid physical contact and keep our seafarers as much as possible at the safest while preparing their requirements.’’
She then referred to a major development with regards to crew change; a quarantine facility established, the Singapore ‘s Shipping Tripartite Alliance Resilience or SG-STAR which is accredited as a crew change holding facility. That means that the processes and the hotels have met the requirements for proper and tight practices for a higher level of confidence and quality control checks into crew change processes . Incidentally AMOSUP is a key to this project as the secretariat for the facility, Mrs Baguilat informed.
‘’I campaigned heavily to our different ship owner clients to join the initiative; to send their crew to the facility. I am confident of the process and of the risk reduction’. We see now intense collaboration with government with our industry colleagues. We, as an agency, will learn to transform and adapt ourselves to take care of our seafareres ‘’Mrs Baguilat said.
Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest but in fact it is the person or the individual or the entity that is the most adaptable that survives and that’s what the industry is doing right now, Mr John Dolan noted.
‘’When the pandemic broke out in March, everybody in the office then went to home for working and we now are all well adapted. Ten months later, having adapted to technology, this allow us to continue to service the members. So, resilience has happened ‘’
However on board ship another crisis emerged as ships keep trading because it is an essential service but it is very difficult to even understand the challenges the mariners actually face onboard ships right now ; extended hours,constant stress and anxiety; restricted access to and from the ships; constant lack of information and updated information. Sometimes, much fake information on board ships.
‘’So the mariners are doing an extraordinary job and this is the word that we receive from our surveyors who do manage to get on board ships. Despite all challenges, seafarers have adapted and are continuing to adapt to this new reality. ‘’ Mr Dolan said.
This pandemic in general has really brought attention to the importance of mental health in the industry, as there are many discussions around, Ms Paredes noted. Even though many efforts had taken place before to highlight mental health, ‘with the pandemic it is as if we could no hide from it’, she noted.
‘’While the crew are experiencing a lot of challenges around themselves, we are experiencing the same onshore, because there is such a huge crisis and there is a lot of uncertainty. It’s not just isolation on ships, we’re also isolated here onshore’’
Overall, the pandemic has shown that we do not need to take care only of our physical state but we also need to take care of the mental aspect of ourselves, Ms Paredes concluded.
What changes industry will see in the future
With regards what will be same and what will change, all experts agreed that travel at some point will be restored, however it is actually difficult to be sure about the next steps. Bulk shipping will continue maybe with a greater use of technology and sophisticated controls from ashore while semi-autonomous vessels could be a potential response to the pandemic, Mr. Dolan noted.
‘’For sure there’ll be changes in crew training; many of the people on board will require additional training just simply to cope with the extended periods of service on board and the shocks arising from it. ‘’ he added, mentioning also that additional training will be required for those seafarers who currently stay at home in order to adapt again to life onboard and adjust to latest developments.
‘’Ships will continue and crews will be still required, but the nature of the crew, the trainings of the crew and protocols towards operating ships, access to ships; all of those could potentially change but right now it seems to me too early to be able to assert categorically that these will be the changes’’ Mr Dolan argued, concluding that many insiders in the industry have accepted that the pandemic has acted as a technology accelarator. ”We are adapting to a new normal and the same applies in shipboard environment.’’
In her turn. Ms Paredes said that it is possible for ship operators to be forced to change the terms of contract, considering the crew change crisis. ‘’I really see the future of health changing. We already know that there’s a shortage of mental health professionals. For example, regarding their demand in the Philippines, we know for a fact that it cannot be met; so the future of health needs to change’’
In this context, it is vital to empower the individual to take control or to have some sort of self-awareness and self-responsibility around their health, Ms Paredes highlighted.
‘’A message that we’re giving people is that we need to depend on an expert to tell you everything, but I think that in the near future, one good thing that could happen out of this is also being able to give back the power to the patient to take action steps; not in a sense of self-diagnosis but in a sense of self-responsibility and self-awareness’’ she explained, noting that more prevention models will come into play.
‘’It is important to explore how we could use technology to move faster, so that people can get the care they need and can also live in a more preventive model and take care of their health physically and mentally’’ she concluded.
Mental health is now a real conversation, Mrs Baguilat commented and said that in her organization, they have provided a helpline to seafarers to talk about certain concerns in a confidential way.
How this crisis will work towards young generation seeking a career at sea
Now having all the challenges associated with the pandemic along with the extended voyages, the stress and anxiety on board ship and the well-being challenges that in fact were there long before the pandemic arrived, all of those are risk factors to securing the kind of talent the industry needs in the future, Mr Dolan noted.
‘’I can see difficulties in maintaining the supply and indeed I could see people who have been at sea or have been really challenged onboard ship during this period deciding that okay i’ve done my time, i’m going to look for a job ashore. Therefore it doesn’t take much imagination to say that people being attracted to the industry will also have similar doubts because they will see and hear and feel these kind of negative vibes coming from the industry itself’’ he added.
Continuing the discussion, Ms Paredes noted that burnout is real; things like post-traumatic stress disorder are real as well. ‘’We already know some seafarers refusing to go back because of their experience but we also know that there are many seafares who at the end of the day, they still really love what they do. Perhaps those that are experiencing difficulty right now may take some time to recover.’’
In this regard, she agreed that there will also be seafarers who are interested to go for the challenge as they see so much value in what they do. ‘’That’s a gift to the industry in itself, to have individuals who are quite passionate about what they’re doing. Also, on the shore side there are such passionate individuals willing to help others and change the industry.’’
Ms Paredes concluded that we need to take care of those facing mental health issues as well as to erase the stigma.
‘’If someone has had an episode of depression or a mental breakdown will they be hired again? Will they be given a chance? Maybe that’s also a question that we should be asking ourselves now’’.
Mrs Baguilat does not see the current situation as a deterrent that will discourage seafarers to continue their career. ‘’We see still a lot of applicants, we just don’t have enough slots to accommodate them and they’re still ongoing interested to have a career both onshore and of course onboard’’ she argued.
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