Getting owners to understand the merits of a happy crew

How do managers discuss the importance of crew welfare with their customers?

Crew welfare has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic, perhaps more than it has ever been. Are shipmanagers now in a position to drive this home further with their clients, the shipowners, to ensure meaningful, long-term improvements to life onboard?

Sachit Sahoonja, CEO and managing partner Su-Nav, concedes that this quite some hurdle as the baseline set for seafarer welfare by the statutory authorities is the bare minimum.

By way of a few examples, Sahoonja points out internet onboard is still not mandatory, family carriage is on a company’s discretion and there is no rule for direct flights to destinations.

A happy crew is the best crew

“It might sound a cliché, but a happy crew is the best crew,” says Kishore Rajvanshy, the managing director of Fleet Management. “We have seen it time and again – high performance, strong commitment, and loyalty come from feeling respected and valued.”

The trick then is to ensure managers get this message across to owners.

“Leading shipmanagers need to define their own standards regarding seafarer welfare, and then engage with their shipowner customers to achieve these,” says Ian Beveridge, CEO of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.

It is up to shipmanagers to lead the way, work together and force the change for the better

Kuba Szymanski, secretary general of InterManager, the association representing third-party managers, says that industry best practices are being pursued and promoted with InterManager’s members’ customers.

“Some owners are easier than others but, maybe due to the pretty good level of earnings enjoyed by owners over the past two years and difficulties in the employment pool of seafarers due to Covid-19, owners seem to be a bit more willing to listen to our suggestions and comments,” Szymanski says.

Educating all sorts of owners

Another issue managers face in their bid to get clients to appreciate the importance of crew welfare is in the constant changing nature of shipowners – they tend to come from all walks of life these days.

“The irony of everyone becoming shipowners often pinches the managers,” says Sanjeev Verma, managing director of Landbridge Ship Management. “Normally,” he says, “there is little or no knowledge of how the ship runs for financial investors turned shipowners, but the bottom line is numbers.”

It isn’t easy to educate such shipowners regarding crew welfare, but it’s vital to bring the matter up when managers sit down to discuss annual budgets, Verma says.

This is a point picked up by Sean McCormack, shipmanagement director at Northern Marine, who argues that the trick is to show clearly to owners the dollars and cents saved via a contented staff at sea.

“By truly understanding the commercial challenges that shipowners face today and evidencing where onboard productivity – driven by a sustainable working environment – can overcome those challenges, that is what we have to do as managers,” McCormack believes.

A big part of the problem is in how shipping companies are organised – the reporting functions go to the wrong place, argues Carl Martin Faannessen, CEO of Manila-based crewing specialist Noatun Maritime.

Most companies have crewing reporting to a technical function rather than an HR-function.

Treat them well, make it easy for them to make the right choices, and your ship will perform well

“We’ve yet to see a large land-based organisation where HR reports to production rather than the CEO. But in our industry it is almost the norm,” Faannessen observes.

“Our role as managers,” Faannessen says, “is to continue to drive this point home: The crew is the only thing that can convert expensively shaped steel to a ship. Treat them well, make it easy for them to make the right choices, and your ship will perform well. Trite, difficult, and true.”

A home away from home

“People are at the very core of what we do. Covid has reinforced this view where the importance of our people onboard our vessels and within our offices has been underlined like never before,” claims Mark O’Neil, the president of Columbia Shipmanagement.

“Inspirational training and life long learning, fair and reasonable compensation and benefits packages, fresh and healthy nutrition and catering, available mental health and medical advice, free and unlimited wifi communication with families and friends, sophisticated human resource and career planning. These are basic employment rights which we all should expect onboard or ashore,” O’Neil says, adding: “It is up to shipmanagers to lead the way, work together and force the change for the better.”

Rajiv Singhal, managing director of MTM Ship Management, believes it is vital to create good living conditions onboard, creating a home away from home, whether that is via good home entertainment, decent food or available wifi .

Singapore-based Thome Group has been working with vessel owners to support its initiatives for crew welfare. Some of these include encouraging seafarers to get eight hours of sleep and rest, and to do physical exercise onboard. There’s also regular monitoring of crew health, insurance cover for crew and their dependents and free wifi onboard.

Landbridge’s Verma says seafarers still need to be educated on their rights and he would like to see them get better advice on financial and retirement planning matters. Likewise, medical benefits should be made available to them and their families when working onboard.

Gen Z demands

Get crew welfare wrong today and managers will be paying the consequences for many years to come, warns Arvind Mohan, the managing director of Viridian Maritime.

“15 to 20 years from now, imagine Gen Z who would be a lot more digitally savvy, and their expectations will be different from prior seafaring generations. Welfare to them could mean something different than what is currently envisioned and perhaps with a simpler but unique view of work-life balance,” Mohan predicts.

Managers will need to lead owners by a change in what welfare truly means, he says. This will no longer be just about providing internet connectivity or having people on and off at the right time. It will be more about transforming training needs, moving from hands-on to training to technology-enabled automation requirements, as it will be these new seafarers who will eventually come ashore to manage these new type of vessels.

Focus, Mohan suggests, will need to shift towards interpersonal skills on an equal par with technical skills, as the frequency of ship-to-shore and vice-versa communication increases.

Moreover, as the number of seafarers onboard shrinks further, social interaction will reduce and therefore means of mental and social support mechanisms will need to be discussed and evaluated, Mohan reckons.

“We as managers emphasise on empowering our seafarers to expand their potential and also their mentoring capabilities. These are just some of the discussions we openly discuss with owners to work to come up with a forward looking coordinated and an all-encompassing plan,” Mohan concludes.

This is one of the articles from Splash’s Shipmanagement Market Report, a 72-page magazine published this month. Splash readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.


  1. One way would be to stop building instituional accomodations – rest assure many ships are just storage spaces for hard working Crew and built by a very weak computer generated program.

    seen so many useless designs – be it the living quarters but also the layout and work spaces with Ergonomy from first steam ships

    Feel free to contact me

  2. It is all a question of attitudes and cultural background. And it all starts with “The Old Man” and
    standards set by the same person. Evidently the position taken by the owner or manager is of
    imperative importance regarding these matters. From a Scandinavian point of view Owners have
    in most cases taken care of their crews. As a master of a vessel there has been few restrictions
    or hinder to execute and uphold a fair relationship within the crew community. At the same time crew
    accommodation and onboard facilities has been promoted within the scoop of creating a fair
    onboard environment for all categories.
    As a marine surveyor I often identified poor onboard conditions with only bare living conditions and
    poor facilities for the crew. Often on ships owned by someone outsourcing the management of the
    vessel to a company with poor understanding and lack of initiative to crew welfare. But the opposite has
    also been observed on well appointed ships with an incompetent master in relation to HR-management.
    Established “traditional” Owners/shipping companies usually reflected a higher onboard standard for their crews.
    Looking back I must at the same time mention that in the past that poor onboard conditions were bearable
    due to a “human” and fair attitude of the Old Man.

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