Photo: Mission to Seafarers

Survey: Seafarers feel trapped and unprotected during the COVID-19 pandemic

Limited shore leave, growing workload, and extended time at sea are taking their toll on the seafarers’ health and wellbeing during the pandemic, according to the latest survey published by the Mission to Seafarers.

“The report has revealed that seafarer happiness is lower, with clear concerns about current safety and welfare provision for those serving at sea. Seafarers are urgently calling for improved connectivity between shore and sea and the need for greater support across the industry during this unprecedented time,” the welfare charity said.

The special COVID-19 edition of the Seafarers’ Happiness Index report shows that the overall happiness level has dropped to 6.30 in Q1 2020, from 6.39 since Q4 2019.

The index, undertaken in association with the Shipowners’ Club and Wallem Group, is a tool for measuring the experiences of seafarers across the global maritime industry.

Multiple factors have contributed to the lower score. These include limited shore leave when in port, social conflicts on board when it comes to the ability to enjoy downtime and the spaces and provisions for relaxation as well as poor online connectivity and mariners’ inability to reach out to their loved ones.

Furthermore, COVID-19 restrictions on movement causing seafarers to stay longer at sea facing growing workloads coupled with the struggle of keeping vessels “virus free” and keeping contact with shore staff to a minimum due to the illness are aggravating the situation.

As a result, seafarers have been feeling stressed, anxious, exhausted and isolated at their workplace. This seems to be particularly hard for seafarers who were looking forward to returning to their families and care for them during the time of crisis

“Respondents reported feeling trapped, concerned for their own health, but also struggling to comprehend what is happening in their home countries and to loved ones,” the report reads.

According to the survey, towards the close of the first quarter, seafarers were caught in different levels of distress and disquiet about whether they will get any relief at all.

“Many are losing hope and there is real concern about what the next few months might hold. For others, there has been some sense, albeit reluctant, of acceptance,” the report said.

The report also indicates that seafarers feel that not enough is being done to ensure safety of those on board. In particular, seafarers are concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment as well as being exposed to infection from port officers that come on board.

“There are real concerns about the impact of the virus onboard, and the lack of emergency response skills and equipment is a huge concern. Moreover, there is the added worry that an infected vessel could be denied access into port,” the report reads.

 “This report highlights how essential it is to have a survey where seafarers can share their views. The industry can gain real insights into how we can improve support for our seafarers, particularly in these challenging times,” Steven Jones, Founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, commented.

“It is paramount that industry calls for seafarers to be recognised as key workers are acted upon and that we support those who are maintaining our global supply chains. Protecting our seafarers is key to protecting our industry.”

“The relevance and value of the index has never been more important than at this critical time. While it shows a downward trend, I am sure it is nothing to what would be reported if it was done now,” Frank Coles, Chief Executive Officer, Wallem Group, added.

Despite all the challenges, seafarers have shown an overwhelming sense of pride in making a difference during the pandemic, keeping the global supply chains and delivery of food and medicine running.

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