On the occasion of this year’s Day of the Seafarer on June 25th, our special column is dedicated to seafarers’ wellbeing which continues to being challenged since the pandemic is not over yet while the Russia-Ukraine war has added a new dimension in the seascape.
So far, industry stakeholders have proved the power of collaboration and many remarkable welfare initiatives have been presented. However, to continuously improve the working and living conditions onboard and take the right direction towards, it is first important to identify the key elements of seafarers’ wellbeing. In that regard, we have asked many experts to provide feedback on the following question:
What are the three (3) most important elements from enhanced wellbeing onboard a ship?
Carleen Lyden Walker, CEO and Co-Founder/Executive Director, IMO Goodwill Maritime Ambassador, North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA), said:
Let me be clear before I answer: I have never sailed as a mariner on board a ship. I have sailed as a passenger, and as a company’s representative, but not as a skilled mariner. My respect for them is immense, as they face challenges unlike those we experience on land including separation, confinement and solitude. I admire their commitment to performing their critically important roles with dignity, professionalism and pride. It is necessary, therefore, to only imagine what I would require onboard to enable me to perform my tasks to my highest level. First, I would need to feel safe in my job and in my environment. As brought forward by Midshipman X, this is not a given. I would also need to know that my ship was maintained and managed in the safest possible fashion by professionals equally committed to the highest levels of competence reflecting that the company which owns the ship cares about me. I would also need connectivity, enabling me to stay in touch with family and friends as well as current events. How disorienting would it be to have no awareness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or the impacts of climate change on entire species? Astronauts in the International Space Station have better access to information than mariners here on Earth! It is also important to me to feel that my job is important as I deliver more than 90% of the world’s goods and energy. To feel valued by those around me for what I do as the engine of global trade
Among the most essential elements for enhanced wellbeing onboard is to create an open environment surrounding physical and mental health. This can include providing greater access to in-house mental health support, sign posting external resources, initiating awareness training and ensuring regular positive communication around mental health issues. Opening up the conversation on mental health and wellbeing will help reduce industrywide stigma to encourage seafarers to speak up and seek support therefore it can increase the uptake of the services on offer.
Fatigue monitoring and management must be prioritised (e.g. providing regular breaks and rest periods as appropriate). Shift patterns and the challenges of life on-board can ultimately lead to compromise safety if not addressed. Supporting seafarers to recognise the signs of fatigue and wellbeing challenges in themselves and others, and take action is essential for the safety and wellbeing of all those on board.
Additionally, investment in technology, particularly connectivity and enhanced shared media systems in recreation rooms. Reliable and affordable connectivity enables seafarers to remain connected with the outside world and their families. Social isolation onboard can be further reduced through collective activities in recreational spaces and health improvement through provision of gym equipment. Advances in vessel technology can also reduce workload and stress by removing repetitive and tedious tasks and in some cases, can enhance safety by removing difficult or dangerous work.