With many crews now at sea for more than a year thanks to coronavirus travel restrictions and the sterile environment of most accommodation blocks adding to declining mental wellbeing one shipowner has decided to buck the trend and actually invest to make its living quarters at sea more bearable.
Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS) has unveiled the EPS Life at Sea Programme, which is an initiative designed to improve the long term physical and mental wellbeing of its seafarers.
According to EPS, the programme includes increased connectivity, start-of-the-art gymnasiums, and new interior designs. The company has displayed the new programme on a newbuild vessel this week and upgrade remodels have been taking place on the company’s existing vessels.
We are as responsible for the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers as we are for industry decarbonisation
“We are as responsible for the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers as we are for industry decarbonisation. My vision is to create a modern environment onboard that is a balance of form and function. These reimagined accommodations will provide added benefits to our ship staff, making their time at sea an enjoyable experience,” said Idan Ofer, the principal of EPS.
Last year, the Mission To Seafarers, a UK-based charity, hit out at standard accommodation block design, suggesting the sterile environment onboard ships nowadays make hospitals look attractive by comparison.
One area where we seem to have gone backwards is the environment we expect our crews to live in
In a post entitled Seafarers Homes Fit for Purpose, the charity stated: “[S]hipboard living space has been consumed by the sterility of the cargo carrying concept. The frills have been removed, and seafarers are left to live and work in a place which can make a hospital look attractive.”
Flooring, panelling, deck heads, furnishing, all have gone the way of “function over form”, the mission observed. Repeatedly crew taking part in there charity’s Seafarers Happiness Index have described shipboard interiors as being “sterile” and “soulless” and that shared social spaces are not being sufficiently well designed or thought through.
“We talk of mental health, or isolation and lack of social cohesion – but according to seafarers we are not providing living environments which help solve the issues, in fact many say they are part of the problem,” the article posited, adding: “There is an erosion of pride in the profession of seafaring, and it seems that some of that is a reflection of the austere, rubber, plastic, composite, foam and chrome world which seafarers exist in.”
While the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) addresses many aspects of living spaces and arrangements, the mission described it is “a lowest common denominator” and the legislation, which is due to be updated next year, has failed to capture the changes which could make life better at sea.
The issue of sterile living conditions leading to mental issues at sea has been highlighted for many years.
Occasional Splash contributor, Bei Hong, in an opinion piece from six years ago, compared conditions onboard to budget motorway hotels.
“These establishments offer small, utilitarian accommodation with no more than the absolute basics – somewhere to sleep but certainly not somewhere you would want to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary,”
Hong wrote in a widely read article that was subsequently used as research into conditions onboard ship by an Australian university.
“Of all the advances made in shipping in recent years, be they improving efficiency, safety or environmental protection, one area where we seem to have gone backwards is the environment we expect our crews to live in,” Hong wrote.