Seafarer Wellbeing – the Only Stone Left Unturned in 2017

Image Courtesy: Officer of the Watch

This year, the shipping industry has made some great strides in the direction of environment-friendly methods and techniques. Also, the industry embraced technology in a big way. LPG as a marine fuel, new BWTS standards, the implementation of ECDIS, a move towards autonomous ships, port infrastructure etc. dominated the headlines and showcased the changing face of the global shipping industry.

However, while there have been great advancements across the sector, the wellbeing of seafarers still needs attention and due effort. The issues range from worries such as overtime to bigger problems such as abandonment. Seafarers have to deal with physical aspects such as fatigue and also, psychological problems like depression and stress.

With the industry growing rapidly and expanding in every direction, the humane aspect must be brought into focus and studies must be undertaken to understand better the life of the seafarer. While institutions like the ITF Seafarers do provide the necessary support and backing that seafarers in distress need, the question begs – why does this situation arise in the first place? While companies spare no cost to get ahead of the completion and employ state of the art technology to gain them their top position, why do they ignore the needs of the most important people in the company? While this is not true of all companies, the statistics of such incidents are certainly high and something needs to be done to curb these instances.

The following is a glimpse of some of the biggest issues seafarers deal with and begs a deeper look at what methods can be put in place to combat these issues:

Fatigue – According to ITF Seafarers, “Seafarers are increasingly expected to take on heavier workloads with less crew support, and to work longer hours with less time off – on board or on shore – to recuperate. Under the international convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), it is acceptable for a seafarer to work up to 98 hours a week. This is far longer than the limit of 72 hours a week laid down in the International Labour Organisation convention 180, and almost double the maximum of 48 hours per week in the European Working Time Directive.”

Suicide – October 10 was celebrated as ‘World Mental Health Day’ but the news for the maritime industry was far from healthy. According to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), seafaring is the second-most at-risk profession worldwide when it comes to suicide. Suicide rates among seafarers experiencing mental health problems have more than tripled since 2014. UK Chamber of Shipping reveals that cadets, the youngest seafarers, are the worst affected.

Lack of basic amenities on Board – Recently, a very distressed captain of an Indian LPG ship wrote a desperate letter outlining the problems him and his crew were facing on board. These included non payment of crew wages, crew overdue for relief, critical lack of provisions, lack of bunkers, crew that needed immediate medical attention and lack of spares.

Piracy – CNBC stated, “Once contained by international policing efforts, piracy appears to be staging a comeback. According to a new report from watchdog group Oceans Beyond Piracy, seafaring incidents involving kidnap for ransom jumped last year, with West Africa and Asia becoming prime targets. The latter’s Sulu and Celebes Seas, neither of which saw any attacks at all in 2015, combined for 21 in 2016, the organization said in its State of Maritime Piracy report. Overall, Asia led the way with 125 instances of piracy, while West Africa had 95: Those figures included armed robbery, hijackings, kidnappings and ship boardings.”

Underpayment or non-payment – On December 20, Sea News reported, “The Filipino seafarers working onboard the Bahamas-registered Flag-of-Convenience (FOC) vessel Diana, owned by Canadian Shipping Lines (CSL) Australia, are underpaid, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said. The Filipino seafarers are effectively operating full time on the Australian coast, according to the union. CSL has recently increased the use of foreign seafarers in coastal trades replacing Australian crew. The union informed on Tuesday that it had inspected the Handy bulk carrier in Melbourne having received a tip-off. Under coastal trading rules introduced in 2012, foreign crew must be paid award rates as the vessel is working more than two domestic voyages in Australian waters.”

As 2017 comes to a close, it is important to look back at all the industry has achieved and introspect on how it can improve further – especially with respect to the life of the seafarer.

Sea News Feature, December 29