As we progress through the year, the shipping industry faces a particularly complex landscape. The ongoing effects of the pandemic, recent outbreaks of monkeypox, and geopolitical conflict continue to affect crew change and crewing recruitment, even as the industry prioritises lower emissions and cleaner technologies.
With a looming shortfall in well-trained and certified seafarers alongside a slow but inevitable overhaul of existing machinery and systems of operation in favour of those that support Net Zero, the industry is on a precipice.
Where seafaring was initially a profession that allowed people to go to sea to travel the world, current conditions of decreased or restricted shore leave, rapid turnarounds in ports, and extended contracts as a result of the crewing crisis mean that this is no longer true
…said Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS) CEO Sandra Welch.
“Furthermore, there is a growing scarcity of experienced onboard personnel, and dropping levels of recruitment and retention, both of which lead to longer working hours for already exhausted crew members. All of this indicates that shipping, which has always struggled to address fatigue, is now escalating towards a genuine crisis.”
As we reflect on the International Maritime Organisation’s chosen theme for the International Day of the Seafarer 2022 – “Your voyage – then and now, share your journey” – we must assess how the industry has changed over the last few decades, and how to best create a more supportive work environment in the future.
Effect on industry
David Patraiko, Director of Projects at The Nautical Institute, points out,
Seafarers live and work in conditions where constant vigilance is necessary 24/7 for the safety of the vessel and persons onboard. With a finite workforce onboard, and with increased demand for a global supply chain that sees nearly 80% of goods transported by sea, crew onboard face a barrage of exhaustion, stress, anxiety and overwork. This has detrimental effects on risk and safety.
Seafarers experiencing fatigue are more likely to experience slower reaction time, poor hand-eye coordination, reduced vigilance, and an increase in error rates. Individuals combating exhaustion may also face difficulties with communication, reduced vigilance, impaired judgement, mood swings and increased irritability. These factors directly impact safety onboard, impacting mental and physical health.
It is vital to make the connection between exhaustion and mood. Tired crew may not have the energy to overcome conflict – particularly if it increases in frequency, which could impact crew morale as well as company reputation. Difficult onboard working relationships due to miscommunications are also likely to impact other factors: such as diversity onboard and mentoring relationships.
John Lloyd, CEO of The Nautical Institute, explains, “The success of our goals in maritime – whether to support diversity, encourage greener operations, or expand and upskill with new technologies – are all dependent on crew, who are the heart of our industry.”
There are many operators that have really stepped up to the challenge of addressing fatigue, but there is much more to be done if we are to create a sustainably supportive environment for our seafarers as we navigate a more complex future.
There are a number of proactive ways in which the industry can address fatigue for the moment, even as we seek longer term solutions to issues such as the crewing crisis. As a recent special issue on fatigue for Nautical Institute publication, The Navigator, highlighted the following ways to reduce crew fatigue: capping contract lengths, providing soundproof insulation onboard to reduce unwanted sound, providing sufficient crewing of the ship to provide adequate rest and relief, and providing food that offers a balance of macronutrients and regular exercise.
Ship and crew managers can help to reduce seafarer fatigue by having a better understanding of our role. Traditionally ship operators assumed that fatigue was an issue for the onboard team.
Captain Kuba Szymanski, Secretary-General of Intermanager and Chair of the SHS Board, commented:
”This is a pretty out of date point of view and today our more progressive ship managers now fully support their staff onboard, particularly in the provision of extra positions. For example a third officer who acts as an additional navigating officer, does some of the administration work, and, more importantly, relieves the chief officer from navigational duties thereby allowing her/him to be a deck department head and look after the cargo.”
He continued: “Members of InterManager are in permanent discussions with Flag States regarding safe manning levels, and many of our members do not settle for just ‘minimum’. It is now commonplace to provide a ship with three to four additional positions in order to fully support crew on board in meeting heavy workloads. The challenge for us now is to convey the message to ship owners that, in order to look after their asset, we need to look after the people employed to do that.”
Ship owners and operators can also educate crew on the need to maintain good digital habits by reducing screentime before sleep, ensuring regular exercise, and establishing a regular sleep schedule. It is also vital that the industry keep to SCTW mandated maximum work hours and minimum rest hours.
Webinar to share resources
SHS is keen to raise awareness of and combat fatigue in crew in a holistic manner. The charity is hosting a special ‘Managing and Combating Fatigue’ webinar on 24 June 2022 at 12.00 pm BST.
Attendees can expect to hear from experts such as including Director of Safe Marine Ltd Dr Claire Pekcan, Deputy Director at CHIRP Maritime David Watkins, and The Nautical Institute’s David Patraiko. Capt. Kuba Szymanski will chair the session, which will talk about systems of care and offer practical tips to ensure that shipping wakes up to fatigue as an ongoing issue.
Register for the webinar here: tinyurl.com/yvutuwud
Ever reducing on board crews, poor drydocking times & quality for money saving with total disregard to quality & maintenance beyond the scope of crew during trading, faster turnaround of ports, manipulating of Rest hours for Inspections – all Employers should address it in reality & not to satisfy ISM Code compliance