Tensions rising among seafarers onboard vessels

According to the Q2 2021 Seafarers Happiness Index, the average score revealed happiness levels of seafarers for the second quarter of 2021 at 5.99/10, a drop from 6.46 in Quarter 1.  The data fell in every category, and there were clear indications that the ongoing issues relating to crew travel, uncertainty over leave, and an almost complete and universal ban on shore leave are taking a negative toll on seafarers.

Even areas that usually hold up well, such as social interaction on board, were struggling, and the responses received painted a picture of stress, fatigue and frustration. There was a growing sense of weariness with the problems at sea, compounded by perceptions that ships are working harder than ever to deliver on the demands of trade. Seafarers spoke of feeling constant stress and pressure.

In addition, there appeared to be a growing sentiment that work demands are constantly rising, but without any benefits for crews. There was also was feedback that management systems are no longer fit for purpose, as far as those who use them are concerned.

There was a negative tone to the responses and a sense that the basic essence of seafaring as a profession and vocation feels broken. One respondent reflected the general mood, stating, “We have broken sleep, broken systems, and people feeling broken too”.

The impact of COVID-19 on workloads is still being felt, and seafarers are continuing to wrestle with hygiene demands and requirements. The issues and demands of administrative work are once more rising, and there were many frustrations.  Some said that the demands of paperwork are even jeopardizing the safety of vessels, as so much time is spent on administrative tasks. Others felt that their working days are being stretched, not just in time, but in what they are demanded to deliver.

Initially, it was felt that a lack of visits to vessels by shore staff was a positive, but this time around there were complaints that office staff are simply demanding information, and there are far too many emails from shore to ship. As one respondent stated, “The office, they want to know everything but they already have the information. So, we get asked many times for the same things. It is like a nightmare”.

Seafarers raised concerns about the checks on working hours – port and flag states were criticized for not checking properly, while inspectors were accused of checking crew records, but not cross-referencing with ship logs.

The written comments revealed signs of tension and frustration. Whether it be wages, food or health, the ravages of extended time being spent on board are taking their toll. There is boredom and irritation about many aspects of life at sea, which came across very clearly from the seafarers who shared their thoughts.

In previous Seafarers Happiness Index reports, it was possible to see a rising tide of optimism as crews thought that either the pandemic was receding, or that vaccinations would lift the pall of the crew change crisis. However, the latest results reveal a growing negativity across all aspects of life on board. There is now pessimism where once there was hope, and unless some key fundamentals are addressed and sorted, it is hard to see how the mood can be lifted.

Seafarers want reassurance about freedom of movement. From the responses received, there was a strong sense that if people know when they are going home, then they can cope with most things thrown at them. If they do not know, if there is doubt, fear and uncertainty, then everything becomes a problem. 

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