Experiencing the high seas, vast horizons, changing tides and the visual delights of maritime flora and fauna may appear fascinating to a travel enthusiast or a layman. However, when the same experience becomes part of daily life, the picture is not as rosy as it sounds.
The life of a seafarer or a member of a merchant vessel’s crew, is extremely challenging. While their job enables the movement of thousands of tonnes of essential commodities across the globe, round the clock, it comes at a cost. When on duty, seafarers have to be alert for a minimum of 15 hours a day (in most cases), which takes a toll on their health.
There are approximately 1.2 million men and women working on the oceans. There are many challenges faced by a seafarer in his journey towards success, with health issues dominating the list. We will discuss some of the major health concerns that seafarers face:
- Hypertension: Seafarers working in luxury and cargo ships gradually succumb to this. High dietary fat and excessive meat intake leads to hypertension. Voyage and budget-related reasons, lack of alternative food choices on board add to dietary woes.
- Elevated SGPT: Excessive alcoholism and fat intake leads to a rise in the level of liver enzymes, specifically the serum glutamate-pyruvate transaminase (SGPT). While some seafarers consume alcohol at sea as a fun pastime, others drink to suppress depression.
- Obesity: Seafarers succumb to obesity. Some seafarers cannot control their food and drink intake. Thus, their bodies attain too much body fat, which affects their health and efficiency in general.
- Tanker Effect: It is a common illness among those chronically exposed to fumes. Someone who has tanker effect shows absent-mindedness, irritability has blank stares, or shows signs of insanity.
- Sexually Transmitted infections: STIs are more common among those who work in bulk and tanker ships.
Working at sea requires both physical and mental strength, to function in a not-so-friendly environment on the ship. There are several issues that a seafarer faces today. A number of seafarers are battling psychological and logistical challenges which come along with the job. There is nothing much the industry or the stakeholders can do about it. Some of the most prevalent issues are:
- Monotony: Living on board, seeing the same people day-in and day-out can become monotonous.
- Staying away from Family: The biggest challenge that a seafarer faces is time they have to stay apart from their loved ones, family and friends.
- Work and Rest Hours: Working at sea requires loads of hard work. However, on several occasions it so happens that the minimum number of rest hours required by seafarers on board ships is overlooked.
- Abandoned Seafarers: There have been several incidences in the past where seafarers have been abandoned by shipping companies and vessel owners. There have also been cases involving ill-treatment such as lack of medical attention, inability to pay remuneration and lack of food on ships.
- Unpredictable Weather: Even under normal weather conditions navigating a ship successfully is a challenge, but when storms hit the sea it becomes a major trial. Bad weather can intensify but crew on ship has to always stay prepared for any eventuality.
- Pirates and Piracy: Piracy at sea may not be as bad as previous centuries, but the issue still persists. Unlike the pirates of the past, pirates of the present have heavy duty weapons and better equipment. They pose a great threat to lives of seafarers.
Working on ships with a very limited number of people is a difficult task, both physically and emotionally. Dealing with the same people for months together within a confined space can easily take a toll on seafarers. Team effort is the key to solving every problem and tackling difficult situations.
It is highly possible that a seafarer will work with ten (or more) different nationalities on a ship. Thus, another serious challenge for a seafarer is the ability to adapt to varying cultures for survival in the industry and build a thriving career.
The seafarer is the human dimension in the shipping industry. Their contribution to the safe and efficient operations of a ship, and protection of the marine environment is vital. Keeping aside the external factors and assistance, a seafarer should self-cultivate technical, physical, and emotional capabilities to combat the challenges on board ships.
Sea News Feature, February 5