Seafarers poll reveals dread, fatigue and burn out onboard during the Covid-19 pandemic

The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published yesterday by The Mission to Seafarers, has given some insight into the lives of seafarers during the global Covid-19 pandemic. The report has revealed that seafarer happiness is lower, with clear concerns about current safety and welfare provision for those serving at sea. Seafarers are urgently calling for improved connectivity between shore and sea and the need for greater support across the industry during this unprecedented time.

The index, undertaken in association with the Shipowners’ Club and Wallem Group, is a tool for measuring the experiences of seafarers across the global maritime industry. As expected, the latest report has provided a platform for seafarers to share their experiences of life at sea during the pandemic, with overall seafarer happiness dropping to 6.30 in Q1 2020, down from 6.39 since Q4 2019. This is a special Covid-19 report which focuses on workload, shore leave and interaction of crew on board, as these were the main areas raised by seafarers within this quarter’s survey.

Across all responses, the call from seafarers was clear. The combination of increased workloads, extended contracts and increased isolation leaves the majority of seafarers feeling stressed, anxious and exhausted.

“There is a sense of constant dread and even paranoia creeping in. Seafarers are not only dealing with normal cargo operations but are also coping with precautions, sanitising and living under a constant fear of infection. Ironically, this can make them feel even more vulnerable and susceptible to the virus,” the report states.

Seafarers are reporting greater levels of fatigue and burn out, as they are forced to keep on working without a sense of when they might be heading back home on leave.

Where there have been increases in workload, these were felt more acutely by those crew who have been charged with enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of accommodation areas. Seafarers reported having to keep vessels to “hospital standards” of hygiene, and they reported an ongoing and relentless struggle to ensure their vessels remain virus free.

Scrubbing, hosing, and wiping are the new constants of daily life.

These additional responsibilities only “intensify” seafarers’ already heavy work schedules, the report noted.

“Cuts in manpower, increased paperwork, constant demands from shore management, uncaring regimes onboard, all these add up to a workload tsunami which seafarers feel swamped with daily,” the 15-page report states.

PPE was also cited as a problem, both the lack of it and the instances where officials come onboard but are not properly or adequately protected.

In addition, policies which demand “zero contact” were considered unrealistic and difficult to manage.

Louise Hall, director – loss prevention at the Shipowners’ Club, commented: “This pivotal edition of the Happiness Index highlights the pressures and fears of those serving on board during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is our belief, that by collecting and sharing this information, we are helping to inform the many facets of the maritime industry of the critical concerns of our seafarers at this most challenging time.”

Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, commented: “It is paramount that industry calls for seafarers to be recognised as key workers are acted upon and that we support those who are maintaining our global supply chains. Protecting our seafarers is key to protecting our industry. It is our duty and responsibility to provide them with all the tools needed to be safe, particularly while many are prevented from returning home.”

Jones will be providing more details of what seafarers are going through during the pandemic in Thursday’s edition of the Maritime CEO Leader Series.

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.
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