New study highlights work-related mental health issues of female seafarers

Around 60% of women working on cargo ships and tankers say stress, depression and anxiety is their biggest health complaint while at work, a new survey has revealed. Of these women, over 80% say the problems are work-related.

The findings are part of the new 2015 Women Seafarers’ Health Survey, conducted by the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and presented today at the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) conference, part of London International Shipping Week.

In the overall survey, which also included women working onboard passenger vessels, over 50% of female seafarers said joint/back pain was their main health issue while at work; 45% said it was stress, depression and anxiety.

Overall, 55% of respondents felt their health complaints were related to work, Caitlin Vaughan, ISWAN’s project manager, told the conference.

ISWAN’s survey found that 17% of the female seafarers had experienced sexual harassment at work. In ISWAN’s pilot study of 100 respondents, the figure was 50%.

ISWAN said more awareness needed to be raised on the availability of bins for the disposal of sanitary items while at sea. The survey exposed that 40% of respondents had no access to such facilities.

According to most recent ITF data, just 2% of the world’s estimated 1m seafarers are female. Of this number, 94% of women are working on passenger vessels (68% on ferries and 26% on cruise ships), most often in positions related to catering. Only 6% of the world’s female seafarers are employed on cargo vessels.

The exact number of female seafarers employed worldwide is not known and is surprisingly difficult to quantify, said Karin Orsel, president of WISTA and vice-chair of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), who also spoke in the conference session.

Before delivering her presentation, Orsel conducted research among national shipowner associations, many of whom were unable to come up with specific numbers of female seafarers.

Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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