The latest Seafarers Happiness Index from the Mission to Seafarers depicts “a harrowing picture,” with the lack of shore leave causing distress to many seafarers.
he report reveals that seafarers are becoming more and more frustrated due to being constantly in the same environment because of the lack of shore leave.
Moreover, this quarter’s report reflects the need for wider vaccination programmes via three core themes:
1. Ban of shore leave in ports causing knock on effects
The absence of freedom of movement and continued extended contracts has dashed all the positive thoughts seafarers once had as boredom and irritation about many aspects of life at sea increase.
More specifically, one seafarer who responded to the survey mentioned having experienced one and a half years without setting foot on land, highlighting the dramatic need for the industry to do more.
Furthermore, the ban of shore leave and being constantly in a ship for a prolonged period means that physical wellbeing is being neglected.
Seafarers who had been motivated to stay active during the earlier stages of their trips expressed feelings of lethargy, apathy and physical exhaustion months into their assignments
says the report.
The good news is that the maritime industry has started putting its vaccination plans into action with flag states and big seafaring nations including Cyprus, Singapore, Philippines, Germany and the USA leading the way at their respective seafarer centres. However, with happiness levels down to 5.99 out of 10, it is time for the industry to ramp up international progress.
Lack of keyworker status, despite rising work demands
While momentum for designating seafarers as key workers was once the topic of conversation, seafarers feel like this has been put on the backburner and they’re no longer ‘flavour of the month’.
As a result, concerns over wage rises, key worker status and the fact that seafarers have been indispensable to the world economy during the pandemic have been now brought back to the fore.
Responses from seafarers also reveal a worrying trend, as reports of companies were caught lying to crew, withholding pay, underpaying, and even threatening seafarers, despite longer hours and rising workload for seafarers.
In fact, some seafarers reported having to work 11-12 hours daily, compared to 8-9 hours before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minimal movement and crew change delays
In previous Seafarers Happiness Index reports, it was possible to see an increasing tide of optimism as crews thought that either the pandemic was receding, or that vaccinations would lift the pall of the crew change crisis. The latest responses show that if people know when they are going home, there is hope.
However, if there is doubt, fear and uncertainty, then everything becomes a problem, and the pressures on board seem to be ramping up
Commenting on the findings of the report, Andrew Wright, Secretary-General of The Mission to Seafarers said that as vaccination programmes in many countries have progressed, seafarers have once again been left behind.
This quarter’s Seafarer Happiness Index results are not only concerning but they suggest that the situation is going backwards after the progress that had been made in the last quarter
For this reason, he notes that the only sustainable solution is to call on governments and the industry to designate seafarers as keyworkers and speed up the vaccination process for crew.
The crew change crisis is far from over. The entire shipping industry, shipping companies, charterers, unions, international bodies and port states need to come together to ensure that the seafarers are appropriately treated with regards to timely crew changes, priority for COVID-19 vaccination, mental health support, etc. during this crisis
John-Kaare Aune, Interim CEO at Wallem Group added.
For his side, Captain Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention at the Standard Club, called upon all key stakeholders to put action to word and take care of our seafarers.
Without the seafarers, we would not have ships plying the oceans or food on our shelves. Ship owners/managers need to ensure that ships are properly manned and that seafarers’ mental, physical and social wellbeing are provided for. This pandemic is far from over and even with vaccination rates rising worldwide, we are seeing an increase in positive cases on board. This is not the time to be letting our seafarers down!
How happy generally when at sea? 6.40 ↓ from 6.50
The seafarers answers on this questions were 6.40 down from 6.50. The comments received from seafarers for this question seemed to reflect a growing feeling of weariness and the sense that while on the one hand, life is very far from normal, with no shore leave and concerns about travel and crew changes, the pressures on shipping seem to be ramping up.
How happy with your workload? 6.00 ↓ from 6.39
Over the past year, we have heard much from seafarers about the impact of COVID-19 on their workloads. While there are still those wrestling with hygiene demands and requirements, it seems that as ever seafarers have stoically sucked up the pressures and are getting on with their jobs.
However, the issues and demands of administrative work appear to be rising once more, and there were many frustrations evident. This perhaps explains the fairly steep drop in happiness for this question.
Success used to be getting the job done, staying safe – now it seems that is not enough
said a seafarer.
How happy about interaction with other crew on board? 6.80 ↓ from 7.24
When it came to onboard relationships, happiness levels continued to fall. This is a major concern, as the breakdown of relationships in what have always been relatively tight-knit shipboard communities will further erode other aspects of life at sea.
To see this drop in the data, and to read the reports from seafarers, it is clear that there are real problems and growing tensions at the heart of life and work on board.
How happy about access to shore leave? 4.90 ↓ from 5.25
This is the first time that the average happiness score for a question has dropped under 5 on the Index. This should be of the utmost concern – and seafarers used this question to comment not just on getting ashore, but on getting back home too. As such, it is not surprising that the data was so low.
How happy about wages/salary? 5.70 ↓ from 6.50
It has been interesting to see the debate about wage levels in recent years. Perhaps surprisingly, there has always been a strong body of respondents stating they feel reasonably rewarded. They are perhaps driven by pride in their profession, and the fact the money earned is such an important part of the life of their family.
How happy about contact with family when at sea? 6.40 ↓ from 6.91
The issue of connectivity has seen a climb in the data over recent reports. However, we appear to have reached a point of inflection, perhaps because companies which have invested or covered costs, or those which have improved communications, have all done so.
As such, it seems we are in a position of the law of diminishing returns, as other seafarers in the global fleet begin to feel even more frustrated reading the tales of their peers who are being better supported or catered for when it comes to online access.
Happiness by ship type
The highest number of respondents served on tankers, but the returns from bulk carriers ran a very close second place this time. Container vessels were well represented too, but it was especially encouraging to see a further increase from cruise ships and offshore vessels. These have once more grown as the respective sectors have reawakened from the pandemic.
Out of the vessels with the highest numbers of respondents, bulk carriers moderately led the way, but the responses from offshore and cruise vessels contained doubly good news. Not only was the number of seafarers up, but so too the happiness levels recorded, with an impressive 7.5 out of 10 for cruise ship respondents, perhaps reflecting a sense of relief at the prospect of bouncing back and getting sailing once more.
Happiness by age group
The 25-35 age range was the best represented, making up 31% of all responses. The report saw a large growth in the number of 35-45 and 45-55-year-olds engaging with us. This is good news as it reflects a better spread of views and feedback from the seafaring population.
There was little variation in happiness levels across the age groups. The 45-55 year-olds managed to scrape to the top with an average happiness score of 6.86.
Happiness by rank
The report received the usual wide spread of seafarers across all ranks, though the higher numbers came from deck ranks. It was pleasing to note that we received more responses from engine officers and crew than we have for some time.
The data trends across ranks held fairly steady across the more highly represented groups, with Third Officers seemingly the happiest currently.