Seafarer Happiness Down amid Stress over New Regulations, Increase in Racism

Workload stress caused by changes in regulations has been one of the three main factors impacting the seafarers’ happiness level in the fourth quarter of 2019, just months before the IMO 2020 sulphur cap entered into force.

Illustration; Image Courtesy: Pixabay under CC0 Creative Commons license

In particular, seafarers were experiencing mounting pressure surrounding inspections and audits to confirm vessels’ compliance, in addition to the demands of ‘day to day’ administration and paperwork, the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published by The Mission to Seafarers, revealed.

As one respondent put it, “shipping is tricking itself if it thinks being safe on paper makes it safer on the water”.

The report inferred that systems that are meant to raise standards are seemingly compromised if they are making seafarers more stressed.

Overall seafarer happiness dropped to 6.13/10 in the fourth quarter of 2019 down from 6.59 reported in the previous quarter, the report shows. The data comes from over 2000 respondents, with surveys completed in the final quarter of 2019.

The most satisfied of the large-scale respondents were crews on board container ships, on average they sat at 6.23/10, followed closely by tankers at 6.03, while bulk carriers experienced a drop down to 5.65.

Cruise crews were seemingly feeling happier this time around. Their numbers rose to 7/10, up from 5.3 in Q2 and 6.3 in Q3.

Elsewhere dredger crews appear to be fairly happy at 7.57, and rather surprisingly those serving on offshore vessels have seen a rise too, up to 7.36, the report shows.

The Mission to Seafarers said that again the spread of genders in the responses was woeful.

“Over 96% of respondents were male, and it shows that we need to find ways of better engaging with female seafarers. Across past reports we have tended to see the female responses higher then their male counterparts. Alas, this time round that trend faltered,” the report said.

“Female seafarers reported their levels to be 5.85/10, while males were at 6.20. The seafarers who preferred not to disclose their gender were at 5.14, which again is far lower than we have seen previously.”

Across all vessel types, three key issues emerged from the survey responses over the three-month period: workload stress caused by changes in regulations; a drop in satisfaction with access to welfare facilities ashore; and an increase in racism experienced while at sea.

Responses regarding shore leave show that seafarers are not being able to reap the benefits of welfare facilities ashore, which in turn hugely impacts their wellbeing.

“There needs to be an industry-wide drive to ensure correct visas are acquired so that seafarers are able to enjoy the benefits of shore-based welfare facilities whilst in ports and terminals,” the report highlighted.

There has been a slump in happiness concerning interaction with other crew this quarter – coming in at 6.67/10, down from 7.28.

The report says that there were troubling accounts of racism raised, with concerning reports that victims do not feel they have anywhere to formally complain or ask for support.

The report stressed that the industry has a responsibility to recognize these concerns and respond to the calls for an independent complaint line or procedure to support seafarers.

“It is saddening to report that based on the seafarer statements received, it seems that there is a growing problem of racism at sea. Not only was it an issue for a number of seafarers who anonymously shared their experiences with us, but the problem was compounded by the fact that not only had they been subjected to racism, they said they felt powerless in dealing with it,” the report reads.

“There is a seeming lack of faith in the system to report those who bullied, abused or attacked them. This is in keeping with the issue of sexism we have heard about in earlier reports. Company procedures, it seems, may be failing those who are most vulnerable while supporting those who cause problems for those they work with.”

On the positive side, seafarers’ happiness with their ability to keep in contact with loved ones when at sea rose this quarter. The report data demonstrate that crews who have good quality, low-cost access to the internet and good communication with their families are far happier than those who do not.

According to the Mission to Seafarers, in 2020, a maritime solutions company, Wallem Group, will be partnering with The Mission alongside the Shipowners’ Club to support this initiative.

“This survey is a great way to get a proper sample of actual seafarers’ views on life at sea and what can be improved. Hopefully, we can then use this to improve the lives of all seafarers,”  Frank Coles, Chief Executive Officer, Wallem Group, commented.