This article was adapted from Nautilus International.
Covid-19 continued to severely affect the wellbeing of seafarers in 2021, according to the Q4 report of the Seafarers Happiness Index by maritime charity the Mission to Seafarers.
The report said that covid uncertainty and fluctuations caused an overall decrease in happiness from 6.59 to 6.41 and led to a major impact on seafarer welfare.
The survey, undertaken with the support of Wallem Group and the Standard Club, highlighted that 2021 saw seafarer happiness rise and fall throughout the year, mirroring the waves of Covid infections., The ‘yo-yo’ nature of the pandemic, caused by unpredictable variants and different rates of outbreaks across the world, is having a serious impact on mental health according to the report.
Mission to Seafarers says seafarers have raised concerns about the ‘draconian nature’ of repeated Covid testing and the quality of quarantine provision. The charity also noted that relationships onboard are strained and there have been an increasing number of seafarers talking of bullying and harassment on their ships. More seafarers are planning for a career change, which could lead to an imminent shortage of replacement crews and a drain of seafarers away from the industry.
The report highlighted the progress in ship-shore connectivity, with seafarers saying their online access has increased. They also expressed their gratitude for campaigns to deliver free access to calls or internet access over the holiday period. However, a technology gap certainly still exists with a clear division between vessels that provided free or affordable access compared with those that don’t. Connectivity at sea is a very important issue to seafarers; the survey notes that more and more seafarers are stating they always check what access they will have before accepting new contracts.
In their responses seafarers again noted their lack of recognition as key workers, despite the initiatives to do so. They expressed concerns over limited freedom of movement, a shortage of vaccinations, and a perception that the profits of shipping companies are not being invested back into the workforce that keeps the industry moving.
There were also a number of worrying responses regarding watchkeeping and hours of work and rest. They reported a rise in a six on/six off watch patterns, something which is not felt to be sustainable. Engineers commented that they felt planned maintenance onboard was not being done, and some not to the necessary standards.
Andrew Wright, secretary-general of Mission to Seafarers, said: ‘Looking at the results of 2021 as a whole, we hope this report will encourage organisations to recognise the lessons for 2022, when it comes to investing in their seafarers, whether it is continuing to improve connectivity, adjusting working hours, or enhancing training. It is about understanding the challenges and making a difference to support the men and women serving at sea. Thank you to all those seafarers for sharing their experiences so the industry can continue to develop with seafarer well-being at its heart.’
Nautilus joins Mission to Seafarers as they reiterate the call for key workers status and further investment in seafarer support during 2022.