Seafarer morale hits new lows

The Mission to Seafarers has published the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report for the second quarter of 2021, painting a grim picture of seafarer welfare with overall happiness dropping to an all-time low since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report highlights the frustration seafarers are feeling from being constantly in the same environment due to the lack of shore leave.

This quarter’s report has reflected the need for wider vaccination programmes via three core themes; the ban of shore leave in ports, the continued delay in keyworker status and, minimal movement for crew.

The absence of freedom of movement and continued extended contracts has dashed all the positive thoughts seafarers once had as boredom and irritation about many aspects of life at sea increase. One seafarer who responded to the survey mentioned having experienced one and a half years without setting foot on land, highlighting the dramatic need for the industry to do more.

Furthermore, the ban of shore leave and being constantly in a ship for a prolonged period has meant that physical wellbeing is being neglected. Seafarers who had been motivated to stay active during the earlier stages of their trips expressed feelings of lethargy, apathy and physical exhaustion months into their assignments.

While momentum for designating seafarers as key workers was once the topic of conversation, seafarers feel like this has been put on the backburner. As a result, concerns over wage rises, key worker status and the fact that seafarers have been indispensable to the world economy during the pandemic have been now brought back to the fore.

Responses from seafarers also reveal a worrying trend with reports of companies – namely manning agents – lying to crew, withholding pay, underpaying, and even threatening seafarers – despite longer hours and rising workload for seafarers. Some seafarers reported having to work 11 to 12 hours daily, compared to eight to nine hours before the Covid-19 pandemic.

In previous Seafarers Happiness Index reports, it was possible to see a rising tide of optimism as crews thought that either the pandemic was receding, or that vaccinations would lift the pall of the crew change crisis. The latest responses showed that if people know when they are going home, there is hope. However, if there is doubt, fear and uncertainty, then everything becomes a problem, and the pressures onboard seem to be ramping up.

Andrew Wright, secretary-general of The Mission to Seafarers said: “As vaccination programmes in many countries have progressed, seafarers have once again been left behind. This quarter’s Seafarer Happiness Index results are not only concerning but they suggest that the situation is going backwards after the progress that had been made in the last quarter.

“The only sustainable solution is to once again call on governments and the industry to designate seafarers as keyworkers and speed up the vaccination process for crew, which maybe the only hope of getting them home to their loved ones, as well as permitting them shore leave.

“More importantly, we must continue to listen to seafarers to ensure that their demands are met. After all, these men and women have been instrumental in keeping global trade afloat including the essential supplies and equipment needed to help support effective vaccination programmes. We have leant far too heavily on them in this past year and they deserve far better.”

The horrendous disregard shown to the world’s seafarers during the pandemic looks set to see future shortages of crew from traditional seafaring sourcing nations, with manning agents now looking to new pastures to fill potential gaps, according to a survey of leading shipmanagers and shipping associations carried by sister title Splash Extra earlier this week.

Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), told Splash Extra, “We are incredibly close to reaching capacity, where demand outstrips supply.”

ICS and BIMCO have also just launched their latest Seafarer Workforce Report, an important guide to seafarer demographics issued every five years, the findings of which also point to worrying shortages of certain crewing elements.

Latest data from ICS shows the number of seafarers caught up in the ongoing crew change crisis has risen by 50,000 in recent weeks with a quarter of a million workers now caught in limbo as governments clamp down on travel, concerned about rising cases of Covid variants.

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. Somehow someway this report must make its way out of the maritime press and into the hands of the greater media, government etc. Having said that I wonder if it would make any difference. Yes we have vaccine progress but that is not going to solve the continued travel restrictions and inconsistencies. As Wallem CEO I agreed to sponsor this report in the hope it would help highlight the situation. Unfortunately it is has only reiterated the sea blindness and the ineffective manner of maritime lobbying. Disappointing.

    Our recent on going petition has garnered over 12000 signatures. Some may find this a good number, but when we see other petitions get 100,000 in a week, I have to wonder if the industry really does care?

  2. Anybody downtown with half a brain could have predicted this. But if you have no intuition, no experience nor basic common sense, l suppose you must go with the data to point out the obvious. But is it a substitute for doing nothing or something? I recall great fire-breathing mission chaplains like the wonderful Malachy Clune from somewhere in the Caribbean, who, at a Mission conference in New Orleans in the last century, roared and growled with righteous anger at the abusive shipowners. An inspiration to hear. Now we have the Happiness Index. I have no doubt that the shipowners prefer the Happiness Index to Malachy’s righteous roar. I know who the abused seafarers would choose, in a heartbeat. “Oh what a falling off there was……..from this…….to this”.

  3. the problem has been a long time coming. Cororna virus pandemic has only speeded up the problem. Companies will not address the problem until they have no choice. This will come in the form of no crew available for vessels. Once the problem hits a company’s pocket book and world trade is severely affected due to lack of crew will the problem be addressed.

    1. Someone somewhere will always be available to ‘fill in the blank’.
      Whether competent or not is a different issue.

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