Report lays bare the real reasons seafarers work such long hours

New research from a team at the World Maritime University (WMU) underlines systemic failures in the implementation of the regulatory regime for seafarers’ hours of work and rest, undermining the credibility of international regulations relating to working hours.

‘A culture of adjustment’, by Dr Raphael Baumler, Yvette de Klerk, Dr Michael Ekow Manuel and Dr Laura Carballo Piñeiro confirms previous research that suggested recording malpractices are widespread, which seriously questions the capacity of the current regulatory framework to prevent fatigue and mitigate its effects.

This is particularly concerning with the number of seafarers serving well beyond their contractual terms and having to take on additional tasks as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Employment insecurity accompanied by financial incentives contributes to an environment where adjustment instead of accuracy is the logical outcome

The analysis indicates that insufficient manning is the root cause of violations especially during peak workload conditions. Imbalance between workload and manning levels indicate that flag states do not always fulfil responsibilities, nor do they ensure that shipowners carry out theirs with due regard to efficient and sufficient manning levels on board ships.

The fear of the negative consequences of failing inspections and creating problems for shipping companies outweighs the obligation to genuinely comply with international regulations. Employment insecurity accompanied by financial incentives contributes to an environment where adjustment instead of accuracy is the logical outcome. For seafarers, the sole objective of recording hours is to confirm compliance and avoid disruptions to the schedule.

In such an environment, requirements for reporting work/rest hours are seen, by seafarers, as merely a paper exercise. Additionally, software intended to support recordkeeping seems “gamed” for compliance. Instead of improving accuracy, they effectively incentivise crew to adjust their records.

According to the report, “They are trapped in cognitive dissonance, where deviance is normalised.” Many companies appear disinterested in seafarers’ feedback on this issue and flag state surveys are limited to reviewing paperwork with no verification of the reality of work on board.

The researchers question the effectiveness of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

When it comes to the enforcement mechanisms established though port state control, inspectors recognised that they rarely checked the accuracy of the records which are taken on face value. Whilst the system of regulation relies on port state control for enforcement, incentives to accommodate are given priority rather than questioning the veracity of records.

A further concern is the fact that participants in the study, which included representatives from international and regional maritime organisations, the shipping industry and maritime unions as well as seafarers themselves, were convinced that any records are similarly susceptible to the practice of adjustment.

The authors of the report propose three significant areas for urgent attention. The first is the need for collaboration on a research-based model for determining safe manning for all operational conditions. The second is a review of the effectiveness of the ISM code and the third is to consider the “‘chronic mistrust” between shore and ship personnel combined with the job insecurity characteristic of numerous seafarers’ working contracts.
The conclusions of the research ashow a system that looks good on paper but in fact masks an insidious unspoken collusion, which ultimately negatively impacts the effectiveness of international conventions. It seems that all stakeholders are aware of the problems but lack the authority or willingness to address the root causes.

According to Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of the WMU, “Seafarers have a right to the protections set out in international maritime conventions and in particular in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 as amended as well as in the IMO STCW Conventions as amended. It is well known that fatigue leads to adverse impacts on health and wellbeing as well as increasing the risks of maritime accidents. This report is a wake-up call to regulators, industry and seafarers themselves. The system is flawed with respect to implementation and needs serious attention.”

Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust commented: “The ITF Seafarers’ Trust was pleased to provide financial support for this independent research by WMU. The findings are devastatingly comprehensive. Now the onus in on flags states, ports states, industry and unions to come together for the benefit of the seafarers to facilitate cultural change and restore the credibility of international maritime regulations.”

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. The root cause lies with the malpractice of issuing Minimum Safe Manning Certificate. This is based on the assumption that 12/14 crew can safely maintain , operat and manage the vessel, irrespective of the frequency of the ports vessel calls, the length of river n canal pilotage involved, the age of the vessel and engine cum machinery breakdowns involved. The owners, charterer, operators are all aware of this, managers comply with what owners require them to do And Masters with shipboard management have no choice but to “manage” the Hours of Work and Rest records. All Port State Control officials are smart enough to observe this but they prefer to look the other way. This is due to tight budget constraints under which each element is operating operating in Shipping industry.

      1. In shippinng biz this topic is the highest hypocrisy for seafarers. Rest hours records is just a piece of paper to show up a supposed compliance with international regulations. The high commercial pressure on the shoulders of crew do not have comparison nowadays.
        Charterers and owners seems to forget about the human factor and after many regulatory instruments in the industry serious accidents still taking place with a high incidence for fatigue or lack of proper familiarization or training.

  2. I am working every days allot of new pipe lines -new projects for engine dep. But only my boss getting bonnus every month. This is not fare . Mafia on italian flag

  3. I just feel like since these rest hours became Important, I had one extra job to do with all the unrest- Adjustment of the Rest Hours. XD.
    That’s how bad this industry is. Anyway, the change has to be made with a Top-Down approach. We can not really help with it since I’ve seen that some of my seafarer friends did make it an issue, but it all reflected slowly on their employment rate in some other indirect ways.

  4. Hello
    I am a seafarer and face these same questions regarding rest hours.
    I am a management level officer and have responsibility of not only mine but also the crew and junior officers as well as any trainee under me with regarding to rest hours.
    Due to the high risk nature of ship operations and the unscheduled nature of work puts additional pressure on ship staff as we are supposed to complete all operations even though we may suffer from extremes of weather conditions, breakdowns in machinery operations, shortage of staff if there is sickness or injury or unscheduled sign off where replacement is not available.
    Additionally security concerns of various degrees all around the world putting our lives on dangers.
    Pollution compliance regulations with regards to fines and severe prison sentences.
    A ton of paperwork all to keep the insurers happy, port state happy, flag state happy and provide additional data for statistics compilation at end of month.
    ISM as per me is a big fraud set upon the ship staff.
    All it does is increase paperwork exponentially when new compliances are required to be covered or; increase it incrementally as Masters reviews or office reviews which are mandatory to show working ISM.
    Every point added to checklists etc has only ensured that the pages are filled without checking as the checklist points and pages have increased from few to many pages for the same task, but the timeframe to check those has remained same or reduced eg during port stays for faster turnaround hardly any time from cargo completion to sailing leaving 8 to 10 checklist to be completed by 1 officer on bridge.
    Some tanker companies are even insisting on complete passage plan to be sent ashore prior ship departure as part of their ISM, leaving little time for second mate for rest in port especially as he is also keeping cargo watches as well as attend to departure and arrival stations leaving hardly any scope for going ashore.( As told to me by my brother sailing as second mate on crude oil tanker).
    Non sensical and unending repetitive audits of varied degrees as if none of the participants of this industry believe in each other. So there will be audits/inspections of Charterers, port states, flag states, company etc.
    Fatigue/ stress is talked about but no solutions. This is manifesting itself in increased incidence of physical violence at sea between ship staff who become emotionally wrecked due to immense pressures between management/ officers and crew onboard.
    Cheaper data rates have brought new headaches…with shore office requiring unending photos for jobs done with daily reporting.They even complain about the quality of photos not being clear or enough in number as if ship staff are trained photographers. As if filling and following various checklists was not enough.
    As last comment I just want to request, please don’t drown seafarers in mindless regulations and compliances. There is enough water in the seas for that.
    Allow them space and time to breathe.
    Usain Bolt wouldn’t have run safer or faster if he had to fill checklists before the race, take pictures while running then complete paperwork after his race and ensure he has rested while doing all of the above.

  5. I was working on board from Chinese company may contract is already over due May colleg sign off already and I ask for repatriation and the company reply no Chinese crew available, and my concern is the if the Chinese is over 9months they will receive a compensation of 1month salary which is not fear. Working on board a big ship 89,000 grt with a lack of deck crew is a very hard situation, maneuvering, duty in port stay, maintenance on deck always rushing not even count the resting time of the crew, the food is not suitable for everyday meals. Australian authority is much better they are concern about the ships crew but her in Asia Hong Kong, Singapore port all China ports they don’t care not even one of the ITF person I heard visiting on board the ship if you are really concern about the welfare of the seafarer you must have to take action probably this company is paying money to cover up their loopholes.

Back to top button