COVID-19: Global Crisis Loom As Vessels Now Sail with Fewer Crew


Due to the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic and the attendant challenges of crew change onboard ships, fresh facts have emerged that so many vessels bow sail with fewer crew because majority of the seafarers are sick onboard.

A new survey by The Mission to Seafarers has also shown that the seafarer community is in the midst of a mental health crisis due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus.

There is continuing decline of happiness at sea largely due to the inability of seafarers to sign off and return home. In addition, heavy workloads, virus fears and a perceived lack of Covid-19 precautions onboard vessels are exacerbating the decline in satisfaction, according to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index.

“We are in the midst of a welfare crisis. While Q1 showed us how seafarers suffered as Covid-19 struck home and provided insight into the support that was needed, the Q2 report highlights the cost of inaction and the need for immediate solutions,” said Andrew Wright, secretary general of The Mission to Seafarers.

It is paramount that we see progress with crew changeovers, onboard PPE and improved communication between shore and sea, to defuse this ticking time-bomb. Protecting seafarers is a priority and governments must now come together and work with industry before it is too late,” he urged.

The latest survey, undertaken in association with the Shipowners’ Club and Wallem Group, analyses the experiences of seafarers across the global maritime industry between April and June 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall, seafarer happiness has dropped from 6.30 in Q1 2020 to 6.18 in Q2 2020.

Vessels have been sailing with fewer crew, seen increased sickness onboard and a pressure to keep hygiene standards at almost hospital-like levels. The demands of meeting these standards while also maintaining social distancing are relentless and seafarers are struggling to adhere to new guidance, the survey results showed.

This level of workload has been relentless since the outbreak of Covid-19 and is clearly taking its toll. Seafarers have reported feeling unsupported and stressed, and without respite, which is impacting work standards as well as the welfare of seafarers. Combined with the challenge of accessing medical services, the risk of an increase in incidents of self-harm and in the number of accidents is very real as stress impacts work, compromising safety at all levels.
Louise Hall, director – loss prevention at the Shipowners’ Club, commented: “Among other issues, this report highlights the toll that social distancing has taken on relationships and connectivity on board.

Reports of additional safety measures, such as separating tables and limiting the capacity of mess rooms at meal times, has made even the most habitual social interactions difficult. This, coupled with extended periods of time at sea, raises serious concerns for seafarers’ mental wellbeing as feelings of loneliness and isolation intensify.”

With many seafarers unable to leave their vessels or contact their family due to the crisis, online access is fundamental to their wellbeing. Without the connection to home and restricted support from ship visitors and port chaplains, seafarers are on the edge of serious mental distress. It is reported that many companies are not communicating well with their seafarers and little support is on offer.

The Mission to Seafarers stated: “The challenges being reported are reaching intolerable levels, due to contracts being disregarded and growing reports of sexism, racism and bullying and drunkenness onboard. Seafarers are at a tipping point and it is essential that faster progress is made to protect seafarers and stop the industry from falling into a deeper crisis.

“The message is clear: crew changes are needed, and those who can make them happen must do so, now. Only once seafarers can return home to their families and those serving at sea feel safe can we avert the both the immediate and the long-term impact of a mental health crisis among our seafarers.”

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