The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry hosted a panel discussion regarding “Seafarer Welfare – Critical from Every Perspective” in London on 8 November. Rear Admiral Kevin Cook (retired), a consultant to International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI), chaired the event. The panel discussed how issues as diverse as on-board internet access through to nutritional programs can improve the well-being of the global seafaring workforce. The panel included representatives from Scorpio Ship Management s.a.m, V.Ships, the UK P&I Club, the Sailors’ Society, and the Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering.
One of the biggest challenges discussed by the panellists is ensuring seafarers’ mental well-being. Despite numerous company strategies and a global network of charities working to improve life at sea and support seafarers, there has been a rise in the number of seafarer suicides in recent years. Seafaring has never been an easy profession and homesickness and loneliness are not new phenomena. Being far from home and in a confined environment can mean that an individual may feel overwhelmed and isolated. But help is there.
Ship manager V.Ships is responsible for over 30,000 seafarers and earlier this year launched a Health & Wellbeing Program. Mike Bradshaw, V.Ships’ Global Head of HS&E, explained that V.Ships has recognized the importance of providing a wholistic wellness program and is moving forward with a program to look at everything which might improve seafarers’ well-being. The company is in the process of installing defibrillators on board 350 vessels, focused on the nutritional aspects of its catering plan, and has developed a health and wellbeing e-learning module for all of its seafarers. There are also plans to launch a 24-hour helpline.
Much of the debate centred on the positive and negative aspects of internet access on-board ships. An increasing number of ships now provide its crews with ready access to the internet, allowing the crew to stay in touch with home and the wider world.
Stuart Edmonston, Loss Prevention Director at the UK P&I Club, commented on how access to the internet in isolated personal spaces is not always a positive development. Recalling his own recent reaction to the news that his young daughter had fallen and hurt herself just before he took part in a meeting, he said, “hearing from my wife that my 3-year old had taken a fall, my mind wasn’t really on the meeting at all; what impact might bad news from back home have on someone about to take the watch?” He recommended that communal areas should have wi-fi access to ensure that crew members were able to talk to others about news from home.
Greater focus on communal activities are vital to improve seafarers’ well-being
Captain Ashley Cooper, Marine Director at Scorpio Ship Management s.a.m., said that his company had a set number of hours a day during which internet access was granted to crew members in order to bring them out of their cabins and promote greater socialization among them. He noted that the Master always has the authority to increase the access period to allow someone to communicate with family in times of need.
Limiting internet access is for some a controversial practice, and one audience member said that all seafarers should be treated like adults with unrestricted access granted. V.Ships said that it does not restrict internet access aboard its managed ships.
All however agreed that a greater focus on communal activities are vital to improve seafarers’ well-being.
The event was one of a series of topical meetings held in shipping centers around the world and organized by the RMI Registry.