Lloyds Register have recently conducted a detailed survey in association with the UK Chamber of Shipping and with The Mission to Seafarers.
Its findings tally with all the stories coming back from our Chaplains and frontline teams – and indeed from other sources, including Chat to a Chaplain and our Seafarers Happiness Index. They reflect much good work done by many across the shipping industry to put additional support in place. Indeed, 50% of seafarers report that there is a professional person who they can access if they need support. Encouraging, yes indeed, although many of those indicated that they were unlikely to do so because of stigmas around mental health. And that still leaves the other 50%. Nevertheless, in this blog, I have often saluted the efforts of so many in shipping over these past months. The survey provides further evidence that we are right to do so. It also confirms, however, that significant numbers of seafarers continue to experience huge stress.
I was personally struck by the fact that 48% report sleep difficulties – and indeed 46% report that they do not feel colleagues are sufficiently well rested. 38% disagree with the statement “I am happy and in good spirits”. 28% report not feeling valued in their work and only 8% report feeling strongly valued in their work. This at a time when it is the heroism of seafarers which has kept the life-giving wheels of world trade moving. 41% disagreed with the statement “I do not worry about things I cannot control” (and one wrote “I am in prison”). This highlights my often-made point about how debilitating it can be to lose a sense of control over your own destiny.
One thing which I have become acutely aware of in the last month is the quarantine arrangements for seafarers preparing for crew change. Of course, we celebrate that crew change is continuing to improve – the biggest problem for seafarers in this pandemic. However, the necessary quarantine often means seafarers spending at least two weeks, and sometimes more if the ship is not ready, alone and confined to lonely hotel rooms. This can have its own traumas – and indeed MtS is looking to see if it can provide some telephone support in these circumstances. And many then move on to ships where they are asked to socially distance (59% of seafarers report such rules in place) and where regulations or personal fears severely limit shore leave. All these things can add to isolation.
In December 2020, the backdrop for so many of our lives – and especially those of seafarers – remains gloomy and uncertain, dark even. Christmas will be very different this year, as we are constantly being reminded. However, and it is a big however, the distant sound of singing is perhaps becoming a little louder. Although there is a long way to go, we have undoubtedly seen progress in the process of resolving the COVID-related issues facing seafarers. Things are getting better. Above all, the vaccine is now almost a present reality and not a distant dream, although there will no doubt be many challenges in rolling this out in shipping, as there will be for everybody at home in these coming months. This prospect is giving us all a bit of a bounce and I so hope this will feed through to brightening the Christmas skies considerably for those at sea. One of those vaccines, from Oxford University, is being developed very close to where I live and, as an Oxford person, I am especially proud and thankful for all they have been doing.
In the meantime, we at The Mission to Seafarers will be continuing to do all we can to bring light and hope to seafarers and their families this Christmas. We have just celebrated the festival of Christ the King. This is actually a very modern festival introduced by Pius 11th to the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 and finding its way into Anglicanism in 1970. Pius had become concerned about a rise of class division and unbridled nationalism (somewhat resonant of our own times?). “True peace”, he wrote, “can only be found under the kingship of Christ.” And the nature of that kingdom? It is rooted in mercy and in love, in justice and in kindness, in service and humility. This was the essence of the Church of England’s Gospel for the day, from Matthew 25. “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me. Truly I tell you, in as much as you gave to this one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.”