Crew change challenges pose the obvious logistical and manpower issue for the maritime industry. However, what is less apparent but very much real is the psychological effects that it has on the individual seafarer as they encounter barriers between them and their repatriation. Progress has been made on the global front, but studies show that crew change still affects more than 200,000 seafarers today, with the number of seafarers who are struggling mentally from the stress and fear, increasing.
SMOU, with the support of Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), collaborated with the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) to conduct a webinar that will help to equip seafarers mentally for their voyages during the pandemic. Identifying the need for this training, WMI assisted in making the webinar possible by bringing together the speakers and participants, and facilitating the timely session. As the training arm of SMOU, WMI has been instrumental in providing soft and hard skill training for seafarers internationally, to train and prepare the sea-going workforce for the industry of tomorrow.
Philippines is part of the top five largest seafarer-supplying nations, supplying the largest number of ratings, and second largest supply of seafaring officers in the world. The webinar was hence well targeted, with over 600 Filipino seafarers and over 50 company representatives from 24 shipping companies attending the virtual seminar to learn more about how to manage their mental health and helplines available for seafarers whilst they are out at sea.
Ms Mary Liew, General Secretary of SMOU opened the session by appreciating and acknowledging the good work and the important role of seafarers in the global economy, and assuring them that the unions are there for them. “A lot of attention has been put on the physical health of seafarers because of the COVID-19 virus, but let us not neglect the mental wellness of our seafarers too. A physical illness may be easily detected by identifying physical symptoms, but we must be vigilant to look out for signs of mental struggles of our seafarers,” said Ms Mary Liew.
Dr Conrado Oca, President of AMOSUP followed with an address to participants, expressing his belief in the needfulness of the webinar on mental wellness. “I am thankful that we got the opportunity to work with SMOU to equip our seafarers with these lifesaving tools. Today’s webinar has certainly helped to demystify the topic of mental health, and started an important conversation that seafarers will be less afraid to step out and seek assistance on,” Dr Conrado Oca remarked.
Speakers at the webinar included Ms Preeti Dubey, founding Director of Strive High, who is also an expert at coaching and training professionals with soft skills in areas such as stress management. Ms Preeti helped participants understand what mental health and wellness is, to help dissolve stigma surrounding the topic. She also offered handles for managing stress and tips to achieve and maintain mental wellness while out at sea.
The second speaker, Captain Enrile, followed the presentation by introducing a free support helpline extended to seafarers through WeTeam. The service is a partnership between shipping companies Synergy Marine Group (SMG) and Philippine Transmarine Carries, Inc. (PTC) that provides confidential, free, and round-the-clock support for seafarers across the globe. Captain Enrile presented on the services provided by WeTeam to assure seafarers that there is a listening ear and a helping hand available in times of mental crisis when out at sea.
Many of the participants acknowledged the importance of the knowledge shared at the webinar and at the end of the session, guest speakers and SMOU representatives had a chance to answer questions that seafarers had.
“Knowing many friends and colleagues that struggle mentally, I found the webinar very informative and eye-opening. The models that were shared were very helpful, and I am deeply grateful for the organizers and the speakers. You were able to produce a very informative webinar and discuss one of the most delicate issues currently in the maritime industry.”
2nd Officer, Marville Cullen P. Espago
“Having experienced a situation where we had a seafarer who had Schizophrenia on board the ship, I found the part where Ms Preeti discussed the signs of mental illness most helpful. These situations, if not addressed, might escalate into a more uncontrollable situation which may put the vessel and its crew in danger. We sailors are no experts on the psychological aspects of a person, but the session managed to provide us with helpful knowledge on assessing early signs of mental illnesses. ”
Captain Amado Cruz Bonilla