Crew fears over escalating piracy and war risk threats contribute to fall in seafarer happiness

30th January 2024
The Mission to Seafarers’ Happiness Index shows another fall in seafarer happiness in Q4 2023, with concerns over workload, stagnated wages, social isolation and lack of respect

The results of the latest Seafarers Happiness Index, published today by The Mission to Seafarers, show a further drop in seafarer happiness for the fourth quarter of 2023, raising serious concerns over conditions for all those working at sea.

The Seafarers Happiness Index is a quarterly survey commissioned by The Mission to Seafarers and made possible through the sponsorship of NorthStandard and Idwal, as well as the support of Inmarsat.. The survey measures the wellbeing of seafarers through ten key questions about their work and life, designed to gauge sentiment about their experiences on board.

This is fourth successive quarter to show a decline in seafarer happiness. The Q4 2023 survey results show a wide range of reasons for this worrying trend, but common causes for concern expressed by seafarers taking part in the survey include feeling overburdened, underappreciated and disconnected, as well as concerns over a lack of shore leave and an inability to contact family.

The Q4 report shows an overall fall in seafarer happiness to 6.36 out of 10. This compares to 6.6 in Q3, 6.77 in Q2 and 7.1 in Q1 2023, and represents a considerable decline over the course of the year.

This fall in happiness is driven by a decrease in sentiment across most areas of life on board covered by the survey, with onboard connectivity being the only notable aspect that showed improvement. However, frustration was expressed by some respondents over what seems to be unfair inconsistency in vessel connectivity, with some vessels in the same fleet having better internet access than others.

Respondents to the Q4 2023 Seafarers Happiness Index also expressed concern over a lack of social interaction and a growing sense of isolation. Whilst seafarers recognise the benefits of spending quality time with their colleagues, much more needs to be done to create focal points that provide time and space together, which in turn helps to build a sense of togetherness and a team ethos onboard. Seafarers also reiterated their concerns about stagnating wages, which are failing to keep up with inflation, and a lack of training opportunities.

The growing security threats to the lives of seafarers are also reflected in the results of the Q4 survey.  It is clear that the escalating risks to seafarer safety from piracy, terrorism and war risks are having an impact on crew welfare. It is also adding to the workload burden on seafarers, due to the ramping up of security duties in higher risk waters. The survey also highlighted the importance of warlike operations area payments. However, there is likely to be a lag between the responses and the official designation of these areas. As such, the Q1 2024 survey should reveal the true impact of these changes.

Looking back at 2023, it is clear that the emergence from COVID was not accompanied by a return to pre-pandemic conditions for seafarers, despite an initial recovery in seafarer happiness in 2022. Extended contracts, diminished employment terms, downward pressure on wages and growing workload demands have undermined welfare and working conditions. In turn, seafarers continue to call for action on shore leave, connectivity, training, diversity, recreation, and mental health support, in order to see their working lives transformed into more sustainable, equitable, and fulfilling careers.

Commenting on the Q4 survey results and looking back on 2023, The Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers, said:

“Following the uptick in seafarer happiness in late 2022 after the lifting of COVID restrictions, it is very disappointing to see the downward trend in happiness over the course of 2023. If there was ever any complacency about the circumstances facing seafarers around the globe, these results surely dispel that. We know that some ship owners and managers are doing fantastic work to invest in the wellbeing of their crew, but sadly the overall picture remains concerning.

From perennial concerns over an unsustainable workload, insufficient shore leave, limited rest hours, financial concerns and the burden of separation from family, we now see rising concerns over the security risks facing seafarers, whether in the Red Sea or in high-risk piracy waters. Seafarers often feel the world’s crises first and hardest, as we have seen in recent years. While it is not within the power of industry to change such events, we are reminded of the vulnerability of seafarers and of the imperatives of prioritising their well-being in all circumstances. It is my hope that we will see the index moving upward in 2024. Let’s make  it  a year of further action, with meaningful steps taken to ensure that every single seafarer feels safe, happy and respected. The future prosperity of the shipping industry depends on it.”

Yves Vandenborn, Head of Loss Prevention Asia-Pacific at NorthStandard said:

“At 6.36/10, Quarter 4 of 2023 reflects a sustained drop for the fourth consecutive quarter in the overall happiness levels of seafarers. The increase in international conflicts and heightened tensions inevitably manifested a degree of anxiety and uncertainty for those at sea. With a global workforce, the maritime industry must be conscious of how easily changes in international relationships have a bearing on the wellbeing on seafarers. A conducive working environment for seafarers can only be created with a sensitivity to the needs of seafarers in times of need. The report once again highlights the importance of having adequate connectivity available to seafarers on board, combined with a good work-life balance and feeling appreciated by the shore management. NorthStandard will continue to collaborate with industry leaders in charting a course towards an improved working environment for seafarers worldwide.”

Thom Herbert, Senior Marine Surveyor and Crew Welfare Advocate at Idwal, added:

“The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report shows disappointing results. We see a continuing negative trend throughout 2023, following some apparent improvements in 2022 as the world emerged from the pandemic. Comments in Q4 and throughout the year seem to present a troubling theme – that many seafarers feel disrespected and undervalued by shoreside colleagues.

“Seafarers shoulder immense responsibilities under challenging conditions yet it seems there is a feeling from crew that some colleagues may not fully appreciate the realities and demands aboard modern vessels. This can foster poor communication and tension. From our experience, we know seafarers often feel overburdened by excessive paperwork and over scrutiny making them feel distrusted and demoralised, and we must try harder to bridge this gap through better dialogue, training, and transparency.”

The Mission to Seafarers is working with partners from across the shipping industry to tackle the issues that continue to affect the wellbeing of seafarers, as well as providing direct support for seafarers through its global network of seafarers’ centres and ship visits, chaplains, staff and volunteers, and its digital solutions, such as its ‘Happy at Sea’ app for seafarers.

The Mission would like to express its thanks to the shipping companies and shore managers that encouraged their crew to participate, as well as all seafarers who took the time to complete the survey.

To download the full Seafarers Happiness Index report for Q4 2023, click here.

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