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Spotlight on crew change reforms needed to address humanitarian crisis of stranded seafarers

Posted on: 9 November 2020

An industry-wide survey on maritime workers’ well-being during COVID-19, led by Lloyd’s Register (LR) in collaboration with the UK Chamber of Shipping, the Mission to Seafarers and Safety at Sea, has uncovered key insights which may be used to improve the safety and well-being of maritime industry workers keeping global trade moving during the pandemic.

The online survey launched on 25 June, the “Day of the Seafarer”, was conducted to understand the efficacy of COVID-19 measures put in place, to assess how the maritime workforce has been supported during this challenging period and to gather insights about the level of care and welfare provided in order to share findings with the entire industry.

Key survey findings

Recognition and value
Overall survey results indicate that many providing essential services in the ocean economy are feeling undervalued. When asked whether they agreed with the statement ‘I feel valued in my role’, only 8% of seafarers strongly agreed, and just 13% felt they were performing an essential role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental and physical well-being
When asked to rate support on mental and physical well-being during this pandemic: with 1 being poor and 10 excellent, the mean result was 6.29, suggesting that while a lot of companies have provided ample support during the pandemic, there is still room for improvement. There were marked differences in support for seagoing versus land-based employees and serious concerns were also raised over seafarer mental health, communications and disease management, with key findings including:

  • 75% of seafarers stated the pandemic meant they were not receiving regular visits from shoreside personnel.
  • 62% of seafarers felt their health and safety was not being balanced appropriately with operational demands.
  • 54% of seafarers felt they were not being actively helped to manage stress and fatigue during the pandemic.

Crew change reform
With as many as 400,000 seafarers currently stranded on vessels, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, some for over a year, the issue of crew change reform was raised by several respondents with one commenting: “We work for each and every one of you to have food, water, fuel, cars etc. We need support in these tough times, but we have been forgotten and abandoned by everybody.”

PPE and COVID-19 safety protocols
In a worrying sign for safety, only half of seafarer respondents (54%) were able to fully agree they had been provided with COVID-19-related PPE. Some 5% of seagoing participants indicated that there were crew diagnosed with COVID-19 onboard.

Access to professional support
When asked about how their organisation has supported them throughout the pandemic, more ship staff (50%) than shore staff (32%) said they had access to a professional person through their job; someone who could provide personal advice and support.

Despite the higher ship staff percentage, the ratio of uptake was not dissimilar: 30% of ship staff used professional services and 17% of shore staff sought help. Reasons ship staff gave for not seeking help was the stigma surrounding mental health and its potential impact on employment. Others said they felt there was no need to or that they did not think it would be effective.

LR’s Global Human Factors manager, Joanne Stokes, who evaluated the results, said: “Some of the key lessons for the maritime industry include acknowledging the importance of seafarers as essential workers and supporting crew morale; providing better and easier access to health provisions and reducing the associated mental health stigma; enhancing communications to help people understand the underlying logic behind decisions and better disease management support and treatment of seafarers during and after quarantine.”

Nick Brown, LR’s Marine and Offshore Director, added: “It’s vitally important that we safeguard and protect the committed people who maintain our global supply chain. It is worrying to hear that seafarers do not feel valued or believe they are playing an essential role in this pandemic. These results paint a concerning picture about how some in the maritime workforce are being treated. I strongly believe that there is a direct connection between worker morale and the safety of the industry. The survey outlines many important areas for improvement as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the need for seafarers to be considered key workers regardless of their nationality.”

UK Chamber of Shipping Policy Director Tim Springett said: “Seafarers are key workers, doing a vitally important job at the most difficult of times. Studies like this help us appreciate how those working across the maritime industry are really feeling. There are some real concerns about their health and wellbeing but by better understanding what they are going through, we can work across the sector and help improve things for them.”

Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General, The Mission to Seafarers, commented: “The intense isolation felt by seafarers during this pandemic is something which many have raised with our chaplains around the world. The challenge now is for the international community and industry to take steps to avoid a serious mental health crisis and potential safety incident. It is not over-stating the mark to suggest that lives depend on it.”

Respondents were a mixture of seagoing staff (34%) and onshore personnel (66%), from a variety of different nationalities with the largest share from United Kingdom (17%), India (13%), Greece (9%) and Australia (9%), across a range of maritime industry sectors including dry bulk carriers (17%), tankers (16%) and container ships (8%).

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