The study, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), calls on cargo shipping companies to provide better support for workers to help prevent conditions like anxiety and depression. This includes the provision of on board amenities such as internet access, enhanced accommodation and recreational activities.

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Over 1,500 seafarers completed a questionnaire on their experiences for the research, while face-to-face interviews were conducted with a small group of seafarers, employers, maritime charities and other stakeholders.

The results show that lack of internet access, long periods away from friends and family, poor accommodation and food were among the leading causes of concern for those working at sea.

Moreover, according to Professor Helen Sampson, who led the study, there is evidence that recent-onset psychological disorders are increasing among serving seafarers, yet more than half (55%) of employers answered they had not introduced any policies or practices to address mental health for a decade.

In fact, when questioned in an interview about suffering from mental ill-health, one seafarer said:

Between pressure, workload, no days off and you are a gazillion miles away from home with limited communication, what do you think is going to happen?

...while another added:

Three months on land is nothing. You can’t see your kids grow up, you can’t see anything. You are just like an uncle coming and going

The report also mentions that the provision of free internet access would make the most significant contribution to improving the mental health and well-being of those working on board ships. Other areas for focus include better terms and conditions of work, relationships with colleagues on board, accommodation and recreation.

What is more, organisations are urged to provide self-help guidance to improve mental resilience, provide contracts that ensure balance between work and leave time, introduce and enforce anti-bullying and harassment policies, train officers on creating a positive on board atmosphere and set up confidential counselling services.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Professor Sampson, Director of Cardiff University’s Seafarers International Research Centre, based in the School of Social Sciences, said that it is vert easy for seafarers working out on the deep ocean to be invisible to those ashore. Their remoteness allows for abuse to go undetected. He explained that sometimes seafarers are subjected to bullying and harassment by superiors and colleagues on board. However many employers also mistreat seafarers by not providing decent and humane living conditions which promote good mental well-being.

More specifically, seafarers working on cargo ships experience very little happiness on board and suffer the consequences of social isolation, stressful working conditions, fatigue, and monotonous institutional environments.

Duncan Spencer, Head of Advice and Practice at IOSH, highlighted, from his perspective that:

Organisations employing remote workers need to shift their approach to follow similar standards that are being implemented in other industries. Poor leadership and culture in the organisation, excessive pressure, bullying and harassment are factors that have the potential to negatively impact on workers’ mental health and wellbeing. It is crucial that these are seriously considered and given a proportionate approach

Recommendations

So, can this problem be solved? And what can the shipping industry do to help seafarers. To assist in this effort, the report suggests the following:

  • At least one activity on-board, such as basketball, squash or swimming;
  • At least four activities from table tennis, darts, barbecues, karaoke, bingo, and card and board games;
  • A gym with at least three pieces of equipment;
  • At least two facilities from a sauna, a book and DVD library, satellite TV with cabins and a library of interactive video games;
  • Comfortable mattresses and furnishings within cabins;
  • Shore leave at every opportunity for all ranks;
  • Varied, good quality food.

See more information in the following PDF