Cases of suicide at sea leap as details of key crew change summit emerge

July 9 is the date for the UK-convened summit on crew changes, which will engage stakeholders from across the world, including maritime, aviation, regulators and politicians. A solution to the crew repatriation crisis cannot come soon enough with news from British charity, the Seafarers Hospital Society, that suicides have become the number one source of deaths onboard ships in recent months. 

With so many seafarers working well beyond their normal contract period, the strain is beginning to show

“The mental health of seafarers has been in the spotlight in recent weeks with a number of reported suicides and suicide attempts on board ships stranded offshore or in port. It’s now the foremost cause of deaths amongst seafarers,” the charity warned in a recent release. 

The Seafarers Hospital Society is now headed by Sandra Welch, previously the COO at the Sailors’ Society.

“The strain on seafarers is particularly acute. It’s a tough job at the best of times, but now, with so many seafarers working well beyond the normal contract period, the strain is beginning to show. They’re anxious about their families, anxious about their health and anxious about the future,” Welch said in a recent release. 

By way of putting pressure on regulators to find a solution to the crew impasse, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) is encouraging ships around the world to sound their horns when in port at 12.00 local time next Wednesday to remind governments of the ongoing crew change crisis.

Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, commented in a release yesterday: “Globally there are now 400,000 seafarers who are either stranded at sea and have overrun their contracts or are at shore waiting to start their tours of duty. July 8 is a perfect moment to remind those politicians who are meeting to consider the impact of Covid-19 to classify these unsung heroes of global trade as key workers and to instigate seafarer air-bridges to enable safe travel.”

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. It is a big mistake. This summit will only demonstrate the extent to which International Conventions are systematically breached, without the economy suffering for it!!

  2. Sam,
    For too many years the plight of the seafarer has been left in the dark, something that the general public knew nothing of. COVID-19 has brought their plight to the fore-front, but I fear that it will need more than the marine press taking up their story. There is concern for the medical staff who are undergoing traumatic experiences whilst treating patients and fears for PTSD, however, seafarers are the second worse profession for suicides and poor mental health. They too must be considered as a VERY important and key workforce without whom the world’s trade will stop. We need to act now and relieve their stress, improve their environment, but most of all recognise that to the general public they may be invisible, their lives matter too!

    I have written an article Invisible which details their plight.

  3. There is a point here which is often hidden. Seafarers’ terms of employment are normally written so as to exclude the payment of a death in service benefit in the event of suicide. It is commonplace for suicide to be recorded as “accidental death”.

    I would not be surprised to find that the real figures are much higher.

  4. Another conference, more talk and even less action. Well done to the UK and Australia for detaining ships with seafarers’ repatriation and engagement issues. Please tell the world the outcome of your actions so others can act or be shamed.

    Healthcare workers were respected for saving lives and being away for a week/few weeks from their families. Then they went home. Delivery workers were recognized for keeping people away from thirst, hunger and starvation. They went home every evening or whenever their shift finished, Everyone in the UK clapped on a Thursday evening for the NHS, care home and delivery workers.

    Seafarers kept the global economy and trade moving without a break, sacrificed their freedom to be on board and cannot go home when their contracts finished, NOT when their watch or shift finished every day. They are like prisoners on board, held to ransom by flag States and companies. Their mental health has been damaged and some may not recover at all (and I pray they will all get back as seafarers are very strong and resilient people). But they have remained a number on a roster for too long.

    Words don’t have any meaning to over 400,000 (number from the media) seafarers. They are human too and, SEAFARERS LIVES MATTER TOO! WHO claps for them, WHO cares for them?
    Please help them to get home to their families with whatever is left of their sanity.

  5. Is there any data on the number of suicides or attempted suicides since COVID 19 came upon us?

  6. Capt. Derick Dcouto

    Owners can pay huge premiums for war zone, HRA, etc to ensure they get the benefits of the insurance.. Not owners, nor managers have the least worry for the seaman onboard… Everybody makes money on a ship, but don’t care for the people who actually run a ship…What a pity, a huge shame for all the so called organisations who brings regulations for the so called safety of the vessel to cover themselves, but forget to act upon the forerunner, the Seaman. Onboard….

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