Seafarers continue to face a bleak future in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published by The Mission to Seafarers. The survey, undertaken with the support of the Shipowners’ Club and Wallem Group, reports on the experiences of seafarers between July and September 2020, during the ongoing crew change crisis and other work hardships resulting from the efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the average Seafarers Happiness Index for the three months increased from 6.18 to 6.35, compared to the previous quarter, the scores declined as the quarter progressed. The Mission to Seafarers attributes the decline to a loss of optimism for action to ease the challenges of crew changes both on and off ships.
“Once again, the Seafarers Happiness Index has revealed the immense human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic among the men and women who serve at sea and upon whom we all depend. It is deeply worrying to learn of the impact on the bonds between crewmates and the damage to social cohesion on board,” commented Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers. “All of us who care about our seafarers must act now and act faster to deliver the immediate support and relief that they need, along with a longer-term plan of action; one that meets the needs of those serving at sea and those stranded ashore.
The findings of the report make it clear that the crew change crisis has not gone away. Seafarers continue to report their dismay and frustration as trips are extended beyond their contractual timeframes and the burden of working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, continues to take its toll. In addition to the mental strain, seafarers are also expressing concerns over the physical impact of extended contracts, which is exacerbated by reduced crew numbers.
The organization highlights that there are reports of crew pulling together and a growing sense of unity in the face of the unprecedented challenge they face, while other crews also report a rise in social conflict onboard, as the social bonds between crewmates come under pressure. The survey also reports some seafarers as feeling that protective measures onboard, including wearing masks and social distancing, risk undermining social cohesion and heightening the sense of isolation.
The Mission to Seafarers responds that it is taking steps to help seafarers who feel trapped at sea working through its global network of ship visitors and seafarer centers, including adapting facilities to make them ‘COVID-secure’ and developing alternative solutions such as our online ‘chat to a chaplain’ service. However, the survey still highlights that some seafarers report feeling trapped between the restrictions placed on their access to shore leave and fears of the exposure risks if they do go ashore.
The report also explores the growing impact on the welfare of seafarers who cannot join vessels and are facing financial consequences as a result. According to the Mission to Seafarers, these individuals have nowhere to turn and report a sense of being the forgotten victims of the crisis. This issue appears particularly acute among those who work in the cruise sector.
“This latest report highlights the heightened plight of seafarers both ashore and at home. Those on board are feeling increasingly concerned with the ongoing situation with many voicing that they feel physically and emotionally exhausted, whereas those at home are surrounded by the uncertainty of their future employment and financial woes,” said Louise Hall, Director – Loss Prevention at the Shipowners’ Club. “It is imperative that we work together as an industry to provide new services and tools, such as the online ‘chat to a chaplain’ service, to improve the health and wellbeing of seafarers during these most difficult times.”
The Seafarers Happiness Index is a barometer of the key issues facing those at sea, conducted every three months. Seafarers are asked ten key questions about their experiences, via an online survey.