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Seafarers report feeling ‘trapped’ and ‘exhausted’

The latest Seafarer Happiness Index report shows a deteriorating level of mental health for crews. Although they take pride in their jobs, seafarers have to deal with uncertainty about their repatriation, the danger of virus infection and even mental abuse from their superiors

The latest survey issued by the Seafarers Happiness’ Index shows increased fatigue from prolonged service on board vessles and stress from living under fear of coronavirus contraction

SEAFARERS are feeling trapped and tired due to prolonged services on board and uncertainty over repatriation, with paranoia creeping in under the threat of coronavirus infection on board.

Those are among the findings of the latest Seafarers Happiness Index, a metric that is based on seafarer surveys about their job, which drew on feedback from crew during the first quarter of 2020, with an emphasis on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Obstruction of crew changes — both from governments who are not allowing people to come onshore under national lockdown rules and from companies who have barred personnel changes to thwart the spread of the virus and to minimise disruption to their vessels — is one of the most pronounced challenges in the maritime sector today.

The survey is conducted by the Mission to Seafarers, in collaboration with the Shipowners’ Club and the Wallem Group.

Overall, seafarer happiness ranked lower in the first quarter of 2020 than it did in the last of 2019, falling from 6.39 to 6.30, the report shows.

“Seafarers reported feeling that not enough is being done to ensure the safety of those on board. They reported feeling physically exhausted, mentally disturbed, homesick and anxious,” it said.

According to the survey, 48% of respondents were from the Indian subcontinent, 24% were from Southeast Asia, and 9% were from western Europe.

Shore leave, something that seafarers felt was lacking even before the coronavirus outbreak, has also become more problematic with the pandemic.

“The pandemic has further exposed the fact that seafarers are more concerned with simply getting their contract completed and getting home, rather than expecting or anticipating any breaks from the ship,” the report said.

Crews also recognise the risks that would come with actually leaving the vessel for a break and they are thus not pursuing it. 

In the first quarter, crew members also reported mental abuse from superiors, including name-calling and harassment. 

Seafarers, who expressed pride in their jobs during this testing time for the world, are being asked to renew their contracts while stuck on board vessels. The prohibitions on crew changes made respondents feel forced to serve beyond their existing contracts.

While the actual workload may not have increased as much in the first quarter, prolonged service on board, coupled with the uncertainty of when that service will end, are exacerbating feelings of fatigue and burnout.

“Where there have been increases in workload, these were felt more acutely by those crew who have been charged with enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of accommodation areas,” the survey found.

The report warned that feelings of dread and paranoia are creeping in, as seafarers fear that the closed spaces on board and running air conditioning could help spread the virus.

“Seafarers are not only dealing with normal cargo operations, but are also coping with precautions, sanitising and living under a constant fear of infection. Ironically, this can make them feel even more vulnerable and susceptible to the virus,” the report said.

Seafarers are also concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment and emergency response skills on board vessels.

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