Seafarers facing racism at sea

There are indications that racism is a problem on the rise and seafarers felt there was nowhere to turn when they faced such abuse.

The Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) from the Mission to Seafarers provides an ongoing study into how people at sea feel about a range of key areas.  According to the latest report for Q4 2019, the overall Seafarer Happiness has fallen almost across the board, down to 6.13/10 from 6.59.  The Mission to Seafarers received comments and input from slightly over 2,000 seafarers. 

There were some rather worrying problems highlighted this time around.  One of the most troubling elements of the Seafarers Happiness Index in this quarter was the reported racism experienced onboard.  There were indications that this is a problem on the rise and seafarers felt that there was nowhere to turn when they faced such abuse.  There were calls by some respondents for an independent complaint line or procedure, something perhaps the industry should explore.

For the number of seafarers who anonymously shared their experiences, the problem was compounded by the fact that not only had they been subjected to racism, they said they felt powerless in dealing with it.

There is a seeming lack of faith in the system to report those who bullied, abused or attacked them.  This is in keeping with the issue of sexism we have heard about in earlier reports.  Company procedures, it seems, may be failing those who are most vulnerable while supporting those who cause problems for those they work with.

Seafarers also stressed that life at sea is constantly changing, and while conditions onboard may be ok, perhaps even good, it does not take much to tip the balance.  They stated that quick rotations of port calls, heavy traffic, demanding cargoes or weather can all have a massive impact on the quality of life onboard.

There was also some frustration about the levels of administration and paperwork that is still expected of crews.  As one respondent put it, “Shipping is tricking itself if it thinks being safe on paper makes it safer on the water.”  Systems which are meant to raise standards are seemingly compromised if they are making seafarers more stressed.

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