Captain Lee Clarke from Tapiit Live on one of the overlooked aspects stemming from last month’s Suez blockage.
Thirty days ago, a ship named the Ever Given was sailing in relative anonymity. Twenty-nine days ago, that same ship found itself splashed across the front cover of every national newspaper from London to Lima.
In a matter of hours, the ship and its 25 strong crew went from highly skilled seafarers to media targets. In the maelstrom of social media memes, newspaper cover stories and ‘special reports’, one major thing was forgotten, more likely ignored: the crew’s mental well-being.
In a world of social media, everyone is an expert, and never has that been felt more in the maritime industry than now. A frenzy of blame erupted almost instantly with little or no merit or fact-checking, as evidenced by the naming of a female officer as the Ever Given’s Captain, regardless of the fact she was over 200 miles away on another vessel.
Being a seafarer is a stressful job, irrespective of a global incident, especially when you factor in being away from family for extended periods and working contract to contract with little job security. You also have to cope with fatigue, extreme weather conditions and intense time pressure placed upon the crew and its Master by multiple state and global agencies as well as the ship’s own charter. So, add to that taking the ‘blame’ for halting $9.6billion of trade a day, understandably, stress levels rise astronomically.
As an industry, mental health appears still to be very much a taboo topic. Seafarers are more likely to be signed off and dismissed for being deemed ‘unfit to serve’ than they are to receive any form of support. Whilst onboard the mood will feel somewhat supportive with the crew banding together to keep the ship operating, internally, each and every seafarer, from deckhand to Master will be worrying about their reputation and thus, their employability.
From my experience as a Captain, your crew is your first line of defence against any major incident. As soon as something goes awry, they burst into action, they’re trained to do so, it’s instinctive. I have no doubt, everyone aboard the Ever Given did everything in their power to protect that ship and avoid a major incident, but some things are beyond your control. In reality, they will never be praised for saving the ship, only criticised for grounding it.
This crew is acutely aware of the issues the incident has caused and they are reminded of it every time they open their phone or computer to read the news or speak to their family, and I feel for every single one of them.
They’re now stuck in an Egyptian lake, further away from their family, without the ability to defend themselves with the threat of civil and criminal charges looming. This downward spiral will undoubtedly be taking its toll on their mental health and in the past, there hasn’t been much of a support system in place to help.
From my experience offshore working for a company that provides mental wellbeing training, and from all of the feedback Tapiit has garnered from its live-streamed mental health awareness courses, seafarers want and need this support. Yet there’s a deep-rooted fear that admitting they’re struggling and asking for help will be the end of their career.
Of course, the conversation has advanced significantly, however, it’s still not where it should be. The harsh reality is, the Ever Given and its crew will be forgotten about in a month or two’s time, but this crew is hurting and will continue to struggle with the mental health issues caused by the incident for years to come.