The latest Seafarers Happiness Index, a barometer of the key issues facing those at sea, reported that the general happiness levels have fallen, which is to be expected with so many seafarers feeling trapped at sea during the crew change crisis brought on by the pandemic.
However, there were other issues that came to light with reports of sexism, racism and bullying all seemingly on the rise. There was also talk of heightened tensions with reports of drunkenness and secret cabin drinking suggesting some are resorting to alcohol to perhaps numb the pain. It appears that the stress onboard is exacerbated by workload.
Crews are sailing with fewer people and there are reports of more sickness onboard and even suggestions of malingering. All this creates a toxic environment, especially when seafarers are expected to work harder than ever and there is a pressure to keep hygiene standards at almost hospital levels. The demands are relentless, with no sign of let up.
Ensuring cleanliness and hygiene is all well and good, but there needs to be the training and tools to do so. These seem to be lacking on many vessels with the result once more of heightened stress. Frustrations are intensified further as seafarers struggle to adhere to new guidance.
One issue which is perhaps symptomatic of the real problems facing crews is that of gangway security. Crews are advised that any visitors displaying symptoms should not be allowed onboard, which makes perfect sense. However, it is not so straightforward. In hot climates, everyone arriving at the top of a long accommodation ladder is out of breath and sweating, more so with masks and hard hats on.
Such challenges begin to take their toll, and the uncertainty of getting home combined with tiredness and fatigue makes for a difficult atmosphere onboard.
Social life, already a difficult issue, has been hit further still as distancing onboard is attempted. Less positive contact and fewer interactions are leading to increased loneliness and isolation. With separate dining, no sports and fewer people in shared areas, the impact of social distancing is making life onboard very difficult.
While there is acceptance that life is different now, there are also worrying reports of different nationalities treating the challenges of social distancing differently, causing consternation and sometimes even conflict onboard.
Stresses are exacerbated further by concerns about other health issues, for instance seafarers are very worried that they will not have access to medical treatment ashore if it is needed. Again, the signs suggest this concern is a real and valid one, as most ports are in lockdown and crew are not allowed ashore.