Seafarers’ happiness levels have increased to 6.59/10, from 5.99 in the previous reporting period, returning to the same levels seen pre-COVID in Q3 2019, the latest Seafarers Happiness Index marks.
o remind, the Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) is the shipping industry’s ongoing barometer of the key issues facing those at sea today. Seafarers are asked 10 key questions every quarter, sharing their views about specific issues affecting their life and work.
Specifically, the Quarter 3 2021 Seafarers Happiness Index showed an overall average score of 6.59/10, which was up from 5.99 in the previous reporting period.
There was, therefore, some improvement to be seen in seafarer happiness. However, the most serious and fundamental issue persists, that of leave. Whether it is crew change issues or the inability to access any shore leave, we are seeing anger, frustration, stress, annoyance and pain.
…the report notes.
Without leave, seafarers will not return to sea
Shore leave and extended contracts have been a huge challenge since the start of the pandemic. 5% of seafarers responding said that they have been away at sea for over a year and a further 13% of respondents have served at sea for over 9 months, with the remainder reporting less than 9 months – so far.
The challenges of balancing home life with the uncertainties that the crew change crisis have led to many who were tentatively considering a move ashore accelerating their career change plans. The report emphasises that many seafarers are not intending to return to sea once they eventually get home.
The issue of retention in an already stressed workforce is a major concern. There is likely to be a growing shortfall in seafarers in the coming years, with seemingly little or no coherent mechanism to manage the problems coming over the horizon. The seafaring experience and expertise that is potentially going to be lost should serve as a warning to all.
The true cost of connectivity
Ship-to-shore connectivity is a long-held contentious issue. The crews who either have no access or feel that it is poor quality, slow, patchy and expensive, are not happy. Many respondents see the issue of internet access as one of the most telling ways of assessing how a company feels about its crews.
The issue of the cost of online access came up repeatedly this quarter. One seafarer stated:
Our internet on board costs US$25 for 100MB”. That is the scale of how challenging the fee structures are for seafarers. Others bemoaned the size of their internet allocation, with one stating that owners gave them 250MB for the whole month consumption; potentially not even enough for one video call to their family.
This feedback raises stark concerns over the affordability and rationing of internet access on board, which is such a priority for so many seafarers from a welfare perspective. Owners and managers are encouraged to look again at the steps that could be taken to improve this.
In the Shadow of a Pandemic
It is known that seafarers have been struggling for around 21 months living in the dark shadow cast by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through that time the entire shipping industry has been stretched like never before, and as a result, the day-to-day lives of seafarers have been massively impacted.
From Quarter 3 in 2019, we can plot the peaks and troughs of emotion experienced by seafarers. There were clear low points, which then gave way to optimism, and that is where we have reached once more today. The Quarter 4 2021 data will be an important insight and will complete the picture, giving us an indication of the true emotional trajectory of seafarers.
…the report adds.
From the many responses and written messages, The Missio to Seafarers marks some clear routes forward to make life better at sea:
- Respectful, open and honest communication from employers to seafarers.
- Good quality internet provision for seafarers and an assessment of the associated costs.
- Help and support for seafarers to identify mental health issues and any changes they may be experiencing.
- Unequivocal reporting mechanisms for bullying, harassment, victimisation and intimidation on board. A zero-tolerance approach, but with a realistic and visible means of applying it.
- Assessment of the impact of multinational crews, especially where there may be issues of isolation or lack of interaction through language issues.
- Ensure common sense and pragmatism are applied when developing rules or systems on board, with seafarer input and feedback acted upon.
- Make seafarers feel respected, and apply further pressure on nations to define them as key/essential workers.
- Provide more vaccinations for seafarers at ports. A system of best practices and lessons learned should be shared globally.
- Recognise and understand the challenges of recruitment and retention. An honest assessment of why seafarers may not wish to return to sea, and action to counter it.
- Recalculation of seafarer remuneration, taking into account rising costs of living and the anticipated likelihood that market forces will see raised wages for a shrinking pool of experienced seafarers.
We urge every shipowner, operator and manager to study this report, listen to their crew and act on what is needed to address their needs, whether that is the longstanding issue of crew changes or, as we see in this latest survey, the costs and constraints on internet access, which can be a lifeline for homesick seafarers.
..as Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers, commented.