“Mental health crisis” amongst crew, says Mission to Seafarers

The ongoing impact of Covid-19, leading to seafarers being stranded at sea or sitting at home without income, waiting to embark, has led to a mental health crisis in the shipping community, according to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index, published this week by The Mission to Seafarers

The report shows the continuing decline of happiness at sea, largely due to the inability of seafarers to sign off and return home. Heavy workloads, virus fears and a perceived lack of Covid-19 precautions on board vessels were exacerbating the decline in satisfaction.

Without immediate action, there are significant risks for the mental and physical wellbeing of crew and a growing risk to safety, the group said.

The latest survey, undertaken in association with the Shipowners’ Club and Wallem Group, analyzes the experiences of seafarers across the global maritime industry between April and June 2020. Overall, seafarer happiness has dropped from 6.30 in Q1 2020 to 6.18 in Q2 2020.

Vessels were sailing with fewer crew, increased sickness onboard and a pressure to keep hygiene standards at almost hospital-like levels. The demands of meeting these standards while also maintaining social distancing were relentless and seafarers were struggling to adhere to new guidance, the survey found.

Mission to Seafarers said that the workload had been relentless since the outbreak of Covid-19 and was clearly taking its toll. Seafarers had reported feeling unsupported and stressed, and without respite, which was impacting work standards as well as the welfare of seafarers.

Combined with the challenge of accessing medical services, the risk of an increase in incidents of self-harm and in the number of accidents was very real, the Mission stated.

Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers, commented: “We are in the midst of a welfare crisis. While Q1 showed us how seafarers suffered as Covid-19 struck home and provided insight into the support that was needed, the Q2 report highlights the cost of inaction and the need for immediate solutions. It is paramount that we see progress with crew changeovers, onboard PPE and improved communication between shore and sea, to defuse this ticking time-bomb. Protecting seafarers is a priority and governments must now come together and work with industry before it is too late.”

Louise Hall, Director – Loss Prevention at the Shipowners’ Club said that “among other issues, this report highlights the toll that social distancing has taken on relationships and connectivity on board. Reports of additional safety measures, such as separating tables and limiting the capacity of mess rooms at meal times, has made even the most habitual social interactions difficult. This, coupled with extended periods of time at sea, raises serious concerns for seafarers’ mental wellbeing as feelings of loneliness and isolation intensify.”

Wallem Group CEO Frank Coles said that “never has the statement ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ had more meaning than in the crew crisis.  No bonus or extra pay can resolve the anguish, mental stress and problems being faced by the crew today.”

The Mission said that the Q1 2020 Seafarers Happiness Index identified the pride that seafarers felt in their work and their hope that the industry would protect them. “Today, this is clearly tempered with disappointment that seafarers are not recognized as key workers. The challenges being reported are reaching intolerable levels, due to contracts being disregarded and growing reports of sexism, racism and bullying and drunkenness onboard. Seafarers are at a tipping point and it is essential that faster progress is made to protect seafarers and stop the industry from falling into a deeper crisis”, the Mission to Seafarers said..

The Mission concluded that “only once seafarers can return home to their families and those serving at sea feel safe can we avert the both the immediate and the long-term impact of a mental health crisis among our seafarers”.