Job uncertainty, shore leave adding to seafarers’ woes

The latest Q3 Seafarers Happiness Index showed seafarers’ frustration and issues over crew changes and concerns over reduced manpower.

The latest Q3 Seafarers Happiness Index showed seafarers’ frustration and issues over crew changes and concerns over reduced manpower.  Seafarers reported feeling increasingly concerned and emotionally exhausted by the uncertainty surrounding their employment. 

“Life during COVID is hell” was a response that seemed to capture the general mood.

Towards the start of the pandemic, the Index heard from seafarers experiencing increasingly heavy workloads as they were forced to stay onboard for longer than their normal contracts. There was again a sense of frustration as trips have gone far over their contractual timeframes, and crews reported that their tolerance is being stretched as they continue working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

There has been much talk of the mental burden facing seafarers, but in the face of extended contracts, the Index also heard from crews who work manually and of the physical exhaustion they are experiencing. It seems that time spent onboard is breaking both bodies and spirits.

The written responses indicated that seafarers are trying to find as much solace in their work as possible, using it as a means of blocking out their concerns over crew changes. There were repeated messages of frustration though, with many seafarers bemoaning the cutting of crew numbers. Such harsh realities mean that tensions are rising. Masters and officers are often accused of working crews without due consideration of the exceptional circumstances.

There can be no ignoring the issue of shore leave during a pandemic. Time and time again seafarers stated that due to the pandemic it is impossible to get time away from the vessel. For some, even where there is an opportunity to take shore leave, they would “rather sleep than go ashore”, and some were pleased to stay onboard as they felt vulnerable to infection in some of the nations visited.

Where seafarers spoke in terms of actual leave and their worries surrounding getting off ship, according to the Index, the crew feel trapped, isolated, worried and just want to get back to their families. Where this is not possible, communication becomes all the more essential. Being connected is no longer simply important, it is absolutely vital. Crews are desperate to understand what is happening at home and how their families are being affected by COVID-19. “There is still no sign of relief and repatriation” said one, in a comment which reflected the views of many.

Where crews are seeing positives, it is in an increased sense of unity onboard as seafarers struggle through extended contracts together. Those who spoke positively help maintain relationships. However, the latest results indicated that the burden of social distancing and constant use of personal protection equipment (PPE) is increasingly becoming a problem, with masks in particular heightening the sense of isolation.

Image Todamo /

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