Do’s and don’ts to boost wellness at sea during pandemic
The pandemic came at a time when crew wellbeing was already in the spotlight of maritime industry. While life onboard with its harsh workload and isolation had already an adverse effect on crews’ mental health, the COVID-19 pandemic with its travel restrictions and limited mobility brought an even bigger anxiety to seafarers, who referred to their vessels as floating prisons.
The pandemic affected port operations and led to port and airport halting their services, meaning that seafarers had no way of getting back home. Crew changeovers became inevitable; so many seafarers were trapped onboard ships even though their contracts had expired, in violation of MLC.
Even worse, access to medical care or mental support became more difficult, while there were reports of some ships not having efficient internet connection, limiting communication of crews with their loved ones. All these were in addition to the overall stress and uncertainty of a pandemic and the accumulated fatigue of seafarers who had already completed their working months onboard.
So, what can be done to boost wellness at sea in this difficult time?
-For shipping organizations:
|–Improve means of communication onboard, such as WiFi, to minimize the feeling of abandonment for seafarers and show you care.||-Allow misinformation: Many times, seafarers do not know what is happening triggering an even bigger uncertainty.|
|-Provide confidential support, such as dedicated helplines, for seafarers who need it.||-Ignore the importance of an open communication between the seafarers and the company.|
|-Boost social interaction, encouraging activities onboard to manage pressure and boredom.||-Encourage restrictions that impede team-bonding, such as alcohol bans and other paternalistic rules.|
|-Encourage feedback: Seafarers need to know that they can talk to their ship managers.||-Reproduce fear: Organizations get blind when employees are afraid to discuss topics of concern.|
|-Educate seafarers on best practices for COVID-19, through guidelines and posters.||-Neglect the importance of training for cadets and those going onboard for the first time.|
-For seafarers themselves:
|-Seek accurate information and always think critically on what you hear, to avoid panic.||-Believe anything you read from inaccurate sources, especially in social media.|
|-Stay healthy: Keep your healthy routine habits, do not skip meals and take proper rest for a healthy mind.||-Ignore the effect of good physical health on mind wellbeing; Being dragged down by despair will not help the situation.|
|-Support mates, having a brief talk on how was their day and showing them you have each other in these times.||-Isolate yourself: You need to fine the fine balance between respecting boundaries and developing true relationships.|
A timeline of recent initiatives
- March 2020: Seafarers Hospital Society joined forces with the Big White Wall to provide mental health and wellbeing advice to working seafarers based in the UK. The service was extended to the families of working seafarers, with the Sailors’ Children’s Society (SCS).
- April 2020: British charity Seafarers UK released £2 million from reserves to support seafarers amid pandemic. This is in addition to the charity’s usual annual allocation of £2 million to support seafarers in need and their families.
- May 2020:
-Norway-based Wilhelmsen Ship Management (WSM) announced crowdfunding to support maritime charity Mission to Seafarers, in addressing the hardships for seafarers amid the COVID-19 crisis.
-Also, ship management company V.Group teamed up with Sailors’ Society in order to produce a guide focused on the positive role that Masters can play in ensuring crew wellbeing.
- June 2020:
-Mission to Seafarers targeted a funding total of £600.000 to deliver the “Flying Angel” campaign, focusing on the major welfare issues that seafarers face during the pandemic.
-Meanwhile, BIMCO compiled a list of useful resources to enable seafarers to seek free, immediate and direct help.
- July 2020:
–AMSA issued a mental health guide for operators and masters on how they can help alleviate the effects of stress for crew members.
-Then, the Maritime Charities Group, comprising 10 major maritime charities, joined forces with Merchant Navy Training Board to publish a good practice guide to designing a training course for seafarers on mental health and wellbeing awareness.
–ISWAN called ILO to consider steps in line with MLC, to ensure that all seafarer suicides are accurately identified.