The Revd Canon Andrew Wright, secretary general of The Mission to Seafarers writes exclusively for Splash today, outlining his seafarer safety forecast for the year ahead.
Happy New Year to all Splash readers! I hope that you had a very happy Christmas and that many of you were fortunate enough to spend the holiday season with families and loved ones.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for the forty seafarers stranded on abandoned vessels at the Port of Sharjah in the UAE; some of whom have been onboard for almost two years, without shore leave and without communication with their families.
As the abandoned crew members continue to wait for payment – wages that are desperately needed to support their families back home – conditions onboard are now reaching a critical level. Food and medical supplies are running low, and power outages are becoming more frequent as bunker fuel supplies continue to deplete.
While these men abandoned, they are certainly not forgotten. Frontline staff from the Mission are on hand to help in any way we can, and have been delivering food, bunker oil and fresh water provisions as often as possible.
We will continue to work with those involved to ensure that these men are brought home safely and that the issue is resolved as soon as possible.
Providing support and advocacy for those who need it
What is going on in the UAE is a powerful reminder of the danger and hardship faced by many today in the seafaring profession and a major wake-up call to the industry that more needs to be done to protect our seafarers across the globe.
Throughout the course of 2019, The Mission to Seafarers will be rolling out new programmes across the globe to combat key issues such as abandonment, piracy and mental health.
As the ongoing case in UAE demonstrates, abandonment is still a huge concern to the Mission, and is an issue that we work tirelessly to combat.
While cases of abandonment are thankfully starting to decrease, the Mission will continue to provide emergency assistance in such cases, including financial assistance for food, water and fuel. We also work with port authorities, shipping companies, flag states and the International Transport Workers’ Federation to mediate between parties to settle disputes.
We will continue to hold owners to account and remain a key advocate and ally for seafarers in need, regardless of their nationality, rank or beliefs.
Piracy – a very real threat
A renewed focus on piracy and maritime violence, and the acute danger this poses to seafarers, is needed going into 2019, following alarming reports of an increasing number of incidents worldwide.
This time last year the number of actual and attempted pirate attacks sat at a 22-year low. However, over the past 12 months we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of hijackings and kidnappings, especially in the Gulf of Guinea where over 40% of piracy-related incidents took place in the first quarter of 2018.
These statistics demonstrate the critical nature of the situation we find ourselves in. As the employer of over 1.5 million men and women worldwide, the maritime industry has a moral obligation to examine the reasons behind these increased figures and put in place the necessary measurements to ensure their continued safety. Simply put, one incident is one too many.
Mental health: Cultivating a safe and supportive workplace
While many shipping companies are doing excellent work to tackle issues such as loneliness and isolation, we need a renewed focus on reaching vulnerable seafarers who may be unable to access existing resources.
When it comes to cultivating a happy workplace where crew members feel safe and supported, there are two aspects the industry needs to consider. One is giving seafarers the tools and vocabulary they need to express their emotions and feelings. The other is providing them with access to the things they need to help them stay connected, and build resilience against certain issues at sea that may lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The Mission’s Seafarer Happiness Index is designed to track crews’ evolving welfare needs and feelings about life at sea. By creating a confidential channel of communication between seafarers and the industry, we have a valuable framework for improvement which shipping companies can use to help support the mental wellbeing of their workers.
For example, our surveys have found that seafarers with access to internet onboard their vessels reported higher levels of happiness; whereas those without it marked lack of connectivity as a source of discontent. For the first time, we now have the data to prove that shipping companies hoping to retain happy and motivated seafarers need to ensure their crews have access to fast and reliable internet.
Mission chaplains are professionally trained in advanced mental health care and PTSD, and offer friendship and support to all seafarers when they come into port. Ship-visiting services are particularly important to safeguarding mental health, as are our Flying Angel Seafarers’ Centres. Good mental health depends upon having proper rest and relaxation in the workplace.
Expanding and developing our mental health resources will be a key focus for the Mission this year, as will be strengthening our partnerships with shipping companies around the globe to ensure that we are reaching as many of the 1.5 million seafarers as possible.
How you can help
The Mission ran a Christmas campaign to raise awareness of the issues currently facing seafarers, particularly the loneliness felt by many around the festive period. So far, over £40,000 has been raised, all of which will go towards running the Mission’s vital welfare services across the globe. If you would like to donate, or to find out more about how you can help, visit https://www.missiontoseafarers.org/why-donate.
For anyone looking for motivation to get on their bike after the indulgences of the holiday season, our Round the Isle Cycle is the perfect opportunity to get active and raise money for an important cause. Taking place on the Isle of Wight on 27 April 2019, with a choice of a 40-mile or 70-mile cycle route, there’s plenty of time to get your training underway, so why not make supporting the Mission one of your New Year resolutions! Click here for more information and to sign up.