The Mission to Seafarers, published the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, revealing the lowest levels of seafarer satisfaction for 8 years.
Q1 2022 and shows that a turbulent start to 2022 on many fronts has severely impacted seafarer happiness. From the COVID-19 Omicron variant to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and concerns over contractual issues, seafarers have faced a challenging few months, as morale on board has severely declined.s informed, the Index’s measure of overall happiness decreased from 6.41 to 5.85 and levels dropped across all categories. The survey, undertaken with the support of the Standard Club and Idwal, reports on
What is the Seafarers Happiness Index?
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.
Two years on from the outbreak of COVID-19, seafarers are still feeling the effects. New variants of the virus continue to impact different countries, impacting seafarers who face a maze of different regulations, ongoing port restrictions, and in many cases limited or no shore leave. Even when seafarers do get ashore, many facilities are closed due to national restrictions, leaving them without support or basic services.
How happy generally when at sea? 5.92 ↓ from 6.56?
There were positive responses, and where seafarers felt happiest, they spoke of enjoying their job and the importance of having good relationships with others on board. By contrast, there were also many written responses featuring comments about the less positive aspects of life at sea. There were comments about the lack of internet access, and not being able to receive crew emails. This is an area of life on board which continues to negatively impact those affected. Additionally, there were issues relating to “toxic relationships”, and the issue of tensions on board between some nationalities.
How happy about access to shore leave? 4.14 ↓ from 4.63?
The issue of shore leave has been hugely, perhaps fundamentally, impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the responses are usually the lowest across the data set. It is no surprise, therefore, to see this issue once again perform so poorly. Time and time again, respondents stated “no shore leave”, “port restrictions”, “no access”, and variations of a very similar theme. While this is a seemingly universal issue for seafarers at the moment, it is important to assess what impact this has. One respondent captured the mood well, stating, “due to covid-19 restrictions of different port of calls nowadays, seafarers have no access to shore leave which makes us very unhappy. We cannot unwind or release work pressures within the ships”.
Not having Wi-Fi is the biggest challenge on board and the voyages we take are long voyages which means we only talk to our loved ones after two months
…a seafarer noted.
How happy about wages/salary? 5.59 ↓ from 6.29
The issue of wages often raises a very diverse set of responses. Some feel that they are paid sufficiently, and indeed are grateful to be in employment. Those who felt positive said the wages were good and they were paid on time, and as expected. Others feel frustrated about the perceived drop in living standards that they are experiencing. This is especially prevalent currently as the cost of living rises rapidly across many nations. Seafarers tend to feel this acutely, and often believe that they should be receiving salary increases. Indeed, repeated responses stated it was too long since their last pay rise.
I feel lied to, no payment received but they keep saying soon. How long is soon?
…one respondent said.
How happy about the training you receive? 6.3 ↓ from 7.21
Some answers were extremely positive and said how good the training they receive is. They were enthusiastic and grateful, stating how helpful it is to refresh knowledge and receive additional information. A sense of training and being “good” and “informative” came from many responses. It was very encouraging to read of the difference that it makes to the safety on board, and one response stated, “Drills and training on board are very good that makes us competent and safe. Quick response to emergencies”.
However, as is to be expected, there were some contrary views too. Concerns were voiced that some areas need additional provision, especially on vessels with no dedicated electrician. Some of the most junior members of the crew felt that they were sent off to perform menial tasks instead of being able to observe operations. There was also concern from some that computer-based training tasks had to be completed on rest days. Some questioned the levels of training needed, as they feel overwhelmed and have doubts as to how important some of the courses are. Cost was also an issue, especially when the burden is carried by the individual seafarer.
I work 12 hours a day, so finding the time and motivation to exercise after a long day is hard. However, the ship has a decent gym so that’s helpful
…a seafarer stressed.
How happy about contact with family when at sea? 6.39 ↓ from 6.92
The issue of connectivity and contact with families and loved ones at home is something that shapes the happiness of seafarers massively. Some were positive, and one message stated:
If internet sim card is affordable, it’s easy to have communication with our family and Wi-Fi signal of the ship is strong
This is a common message from the Index, that vessels with good, cost-effective internet provision have the happiest crews by far. When vessels do not have such connectivity, then seafarer responses were unsurprisingly frustrated.
…not having Wi-Fi is the biggest challenge on board and the voyages we take are long voyages which means we only talk to our loved ones after two months. Sometimes when we reach port you find that sim cards are expensive
…a respondent mentioned.
International conflict impacts crew camaraderie
Seafarers responding to the survey also were impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many were concerned about their families and worried by tensions on board. On some ships, Russian and Ukrainian crew members are actively working together to try and ensure that relationships did not suffer, but as the war continues and misinformation spreads, tensions appear to be rising. Crew members from a host of nations including Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, expressed concerns about tensions on board, which has implications not only for social cohesion on board, but safety too.
Crews concerned by contract issues
The survey highlighted that seafarers continue to face problems surrounding their employment rights, contractual issues and calls to be recognised as key workers. The issue of contract extensions was frequently mentioned when asking seafarers about their general happiness at sea and is impacting the mental health of crews that are effectively being forced to remain on board. Many are desperate to return home, especially as connectivity to speak to loved ones remains a huge challenge for seafarers.
Focus on welfare and wellbeing
Although the survey raises a wide array of issues that should be the cause of great concern for all ship owners, operators and managers, a number of seafarers also took the opportunity to share examples of steps taken to improve welfare and morale onboard. There was positive feedback from seafarers who spoke about some of the efforts made to make life at sea more comfortable and enjoyable, despite other concerns. This included examples of vessels having funds allocated for wellbeing events and activities, such as weekly crew gatherings, quizzes, karaoke, sports, TikTok video making, movie nights, and barbecues.
It’s hugely concerning to see seafarer satisfaction decline quite significantly in our latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, though unsurprising. With the continued threat and disruption of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, seafarers face unprecedented challenges, which are exacerbated by restrictions on shore leave and crew changes
…Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary-General of The Mission to Seafarers, said.
We hope that through the rest of 2022, organisations will take further meaningful steps to improve the welfare of crews and help boost seafarer happiness. With financial backing and compassionate leadership, there are still actions that they can be taken to improve seafarers’ quality of life
….Revd Canon Andrew Wright noted, adding also that it is important to listen to and learn from seafarers’ experiences, to not only empathise with them, but work together to find practical solutions that will improve life at sea
The substantial drop in seafarer happiness should be a wakeup call for the industry – we rely on seafarers every day for so much of what we take for granted – and yet, morale across the board has dropped as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and uncertainty around contracts
…Capt Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, at the Standard Club, added.
Seafarers around the world have traditionally worked as a tight and cohesive group, but now this is being severely tested as crews of all nationalities, particularly Russian and Ukrainian crew, face rising tensions onboard as they receive little information or actual disinformation about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and contracts are extended with little or no consultation
…Yves Vandenborn mentioned, adding also that one clear standout message from the report is the vital importance of providing clear and honest communication to ships at all times.
The few positive comments from seafarers in this Seafarers Happiness Index should also be emphasised to show the importance of caring for our seafarers and how a small investment can go a long way – it really does make a difference to crew morale and outlook, providing both economic and mental health benefits.
…said Yves, stressing that Standard Club will continue to work with its members to promote seafarer wellbeing, enhanced communication and best practice
Given the backdrop of Omicron and the Ukraine conflict and following two years of pandemic lockdown, it is hardly surprising that the cracks appear to be deepening for our global seafarers
…Thom Herbert, Idwal Crew Wellbeing Advocate / Senior Marine Surveyor, commented.
It’s desperately sad to hear of increased social issues between crew members as the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes its impact everywhere and, with such a sizeable percentage of crew coming from the affected areas, the industry as a whole should consider the implications for those on board
Sadly, the areas outlined in the Q1 2022 Seafarers Happiness Index echo much of what we hear from our own Idwal surveyors who are on board vessels every day and get a unique insight from crew
…he said, concluding that “We often see first-hand how closely linked crew morale and wellbeing are to the efficient operation of the vessel and we are passionate about working together to improve visibility around crew matters, as well as driving transparency across the industry as a whole.”