On Day of the Seafarer, a Focus on Well-Being

Published Jun 25, 2018 10:20 AM by The Maritime Executive

On this year's Day of the Seafarer, the International Maritime Organization is using its global platform to raise awareness of issues affecting seafarer well-being and mental health.

Seafaring has always been a challenging job, and many different factors affect the quality of life at sea. They include shore leave, the threat of abandonment, prompt payment of wages, the prospect of criminalization and even simple things like internet access and exercise facilities.

Seafarer wellbeing has important consequences for ship managers, marine insurers and shipowners, as well as seafarers themselves. A 2013 study by Swansea University concluded that shipping's suicide rate is second only to coal-mining, just short of the top of the list among all industries. And according to the UK Chamber of Shipping, suicide rates among seafarers tripled from 2014 to 2017 - a period that overlapped with the downturn in bulk shipping, containerized freight and offshore oil and gas.

"[Seafarers'] work can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it can also have more difficult moments," said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, in his annual message for the Day of the Seafarer. “Day of the Seafarer 2018 provides a platform to advocate for higher standards of welfare and enable shipping companies and others within the industry to show how they provide a good working environment for seafarers and thereby make a positive contribution to their wellbeing."

As part of IMO's awareness-raising effort, seafarers are encouraged to share their own views and experiences through an online survey. The results of the poll will be analyzed and presented to the IMO Council. Seafarers are also invited to share their good days at sea by uploading photos hashtagged with “#GoodDayatSea.” They may also submit images to the IMO/International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network photo competition, which is sponsored by The North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA). Some of the entries may be viewed at https://dayoftheseafarerphotos.imo.org.

InterManager highlights mentoring

InterManager, the worldwide association of ship managers, echoed Secretary Lim's message in its annual statement. The group expressed support for an increased focus on the wellbeing of seafarers, as good mental health can lead to fewer accidents and increased productivity. In its own efforts, InterManager has been supporting a year-long project being carried out by Solent University in Southampton in examining seafarers’ welfare, which focuses on mentoring seafarers.

The Mentoring Seafarers’ Project is looking at the industry's mentoring provisions, including both formal and informal schemes, and highlighting how these can help to combat issues faced at sea and improve the wellbeing of seafarers. “Similar to other industries, mental health is a challenge that must be supported and not ignored," said Intermanager Secretary-General Capt. Kuba Szymanski. “It is vital that we support our seafarers to ensure they are healthy and happy while out at sea. We must appreciate the challenges that come with being a seafarer such as loneliness, unsociable hours, and in some case high stress and fatigue levels. To ensure out seafarers are doing the most effective job, it is important they are given the necessary support to overcome these."

OSM rolls out seafarer well-being campaign

Norwegian ship management firm OSM is using this year's Day of the Seafarer as an occasion to launch a new seafarer wellbeing campaign, which will cover all of its 500 vessels and 11,000 employees. “Being on-board vessels for long periods of time, separated from family and friends, is difficult enough, and if conditions aren’t optimal then seafarers can be acutely vulnerable to mental health challenges," said OSM CEO Geir Sekkesaeter. "That’s easy to understand, but can be difficult for the individuals concerned to talk about. As such there’s a tendency to ‘sweep these things under the carpet’ and that only exacerbates the problem."

The company will provide messages, information and training related to wellbeing in multiple formats, and will encourage better incident reporting. Each captain will be responsible for "owning" the campaign on board, and OSM will use engagement surveys to evaluate its progress. “We want to remove the stigma attached to discussing issues that impact upon mental health and address any areas where we could improve our performance,” said Sekkesaeter.