Latest seafarer poll paints grim picture of life onboard during the pandemic

Seafarers continue to face a bleak future in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published yesterday by The Mission to Seafarers.

The survey reports on the experiences of seafarers between July and September 2020. The average Seafarers Happiness Index for this three-month period showed an increase in happiness levels from 6.18 to 6.35, compared to the previous quarter. However, this masks significant fluctuations between July and September. Early responses from seafarers were far more positive, driven by rising hopes about the re-opening of national borders and a solution to the crew change crisis.

The index is a measure of the incompetent leadership of world governments

Unfortunately, as the quarter progressed, this optimism was lost as the second wave of infections put pay to the hopes for many of a return home or a return to work. This was reflected in a decline in happiness levels, with the comment of one seafarer that “life during COVID is hell” capturing the sentiment of many others.

A complex picture emerges in looking at relationships on board during this quarter. There are welcome reports of crew pulling together and a growing sense of unity in the face of the unprecedented challenge they face.

Worryingly though, there are also reports of a rise in social conflict onboard, as the social bonds between crewmates come under pressure. The survey also reports some seafarers as feeling that protective measures onboard, including wearing masks and social distancing, risk undermining social cohesion and heightening the sense of isolation.

The findings of the report make it clear that the crew change crisis has not gone away. Seafarers continue to report their dismay and frustration as trips are extended beyond their contractual timeframes and the burden of working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, continues to take its toll. In addition to the mental strain, seafarers are also expressing concerns over the physical impact of extended contracts, which is exacerbated by reduced crew numbers.

On top of this, some seafarers report feeling trapped between the restrictions placed on their access to shore leave and fears of the exposure risks if they do go ashore.

The survey also reveals the growing impact on the welfare of seafarers who cannot join vessels and are facing severe financial consequences as a result, with careers jeopardised and livelihoods lost. These seafarers have nowhere to turn and report a sense of being the forgotten victims of the crisis. This issue appears particularly acute among those who work in the cruise sector.

The survey is sponsored by the the Shipowners’ Club and the Wallem Group.

Commenting on the latest findings, Frank Coles, CEO of Wallem, said: “The index is a measure of the incompetent leadership of world governments to recognise and support seafarers. We need to start listening to our seafarers and urge governments to open their borders to seafarers and confirm their key worker status as a matter of urgency.”

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. What to do for them who stock at anchorage in China due to a ban of cargo from Australia….
    Some ships have already 5 months without movement and no any future prospect!!!

  2. Popularity of shipmanagers is at free-fall. Unable to solve any problem, most of them look superfluous and easy replaceble.

  3. As a retired Merchant Navy captain, I am deeply concerned with the effect the current situation is having on the mental health and well-being on seafarers, particularly those who have had to remain onboard for months after they have completed their contract. I have absolutely no doubt that many well qualified and highly experienced seafarers will be prompted to leave the industry due to the way they have been treated. I dispair at the future of world trade and the effect of so many experienced seafarers will have on safety at sea. Thank God I’m retired – I loved the sea but I would not set foot on a merchant ship again. Who cares about seafarers? NOBODY

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