The latest Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) shows that the seafarer community is in the midst of a mental health crisis due to the impact of COVID-19[i]. They highlight a continuing decline of happiness at sea, largely due to the inability of seafarers to sign off and return home. Heavy workloads, virus fears and a perceived lack of COVID-19 precautions on board vessels are exacerbating the decline in satisfaction.
Recent news from the International Maritime Organization[ii] suggests that up to 400,000 seafarers from across the globe are still stranded on ships due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on travel and transit. They report that some seafarers have now been at sea for 17 months without a break, well beyond the 11-month limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention.
Alexander Buchmann, managing director, Hanseaticsoft said, “The pandemic is shining a light on one of the key challenges for seafarers right now which is the long stretches at sea away from family and friends. With crews being stuck on ships for much longer than usual, there is a greater risk of poor mental wellbeing, which companies may need to address.
“One of the ways to improve mental wellbeing is by allowing personal internet access, however even though most seafarers have limited access to the internet they are often unable to use it for personal emails or video calls. We encourage shipping companies to change this so that seafarers can stay connected with family and friends.”
A study last year by Cardiff University[iii], found that long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home, put seafarers at risk of poor mental health. One of their suggestions to improve mental wellbeing is the provision of onboard internet access.
Another study by Nautilus[iv] found that whilst 88 per cent of its members worked onboard ships with internet access, only 57 per cent could use it for personal emails and only 6 per cent of members were able to use video calling, which is considered the best way of keeping in touch with family and friends.
“Providing better internet access for crews can be an easy way to tackle mental health. This way, crews can stay connected to the outside world, plus make use of apps to access mental health support or other groups and organisations. As we move through this crisis mental health support will be paramount.
“Good internet access also benefits shipping companies, enabling them to take advantage of cloud technology solutions, which can assist in every aspect of crew management and administration, including health and wellbeing. Adopting digital processes streamlines and improves efficiency, something all shipping companies will need to do post COVID-19 to remain competitive.”