Report Shows Seafarers "Losing Faith" After a Year of COVID Crisis

mission to seafarers
File image courtesy MUA / ITF

Published Jan 26, 2021 8:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The latest benchmark Seafarers' Happiness Index from Mission to Seafarers sounds a dark note as the COVID-19 pandemic and the crew change crisis drag on. Overall index scores last quarter were up slightly, but individual written responses reveal "a real sense of resignation and antipathy" due to heavy workloads, extended contracts, stress and uncertainty. 

According to Mission to Seafarers, many respondents say that they do not feel appreciated or understood by the home office, and they are "losing faith" in the systems designed to protect their wellbeing. The onboard culture on many ships has become cynical, with expectations that things will get worse. Many are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs, while others report that they are quitting the industry altogether out of frustration. One year into the pandemic, some respondents expressed weariness with the industry's balance between rhetoric and action on crew change. "Words are cheap, we need flights home," one seafarer wrote.  

“No one seems happy at all at the moment, and how could they? I am stuck on my ship, it is the hardest time I have ever known, even after 30 years of seagoing," one respondent wrote. "We do not know when we’ll be relieved, and even if and when we do, then we will be at home perhaps stuck with no work."

The survey also drew negative responses about travel and quarantine measures in the COVID era. Seafarers have been particularly affected by travel restrictions, and many nations have set up special testing and pre-travel quarantine requirements for their movement. Some seafarers have reported that these measures have resulted in substandard, frustrating and "degrading" treatment in the process.

In addition, hours of rest violations have always been common, but they now appear to be on the rise. Many seafarers reported long hours and altered paperwork to cover it up. "It is normal for us, and everyone knows what goes on. Port State Control never really checks, and never follows up on what we write, so the system keeps on," one respondent wrote. 

Many seafarers also reported that a rush to train up in advance of the IMO 2021 cyber regulations has not been "matched by investment elsewhere," and that the training is undermined by poor shipboard system security and equipment. 

The upside is that some vessel operators have been trying to improve quality of life on board, even when it isn't possible to carry out a crew change. Better satellite internet access, better food, and better budgets for crew welfare have drawn praise from seafarers who benefit from them. "Small gestures mean a lot, especially in difficult circumstances. The companies which find the budget for new equipment, or who are able to improve the facilities onboard, gain a huge amount of respect from crew," Mission to Seafarers wrote.