London International Shipping Week 2023: An opportunity to reflect on seafarer welfare

28th September 2023
In September, The Mission to Seafarers (MtS) participated in one of the most significant events for the worldwide shipping industry, The London International Shipping Week 2023.

The event took place from the 11th – 15th, September, in various locations across London, offering over 200 industry functions and unique networking opportunities for leaders across all sectors of the international shipping industry. On Tuesday,  12th September, MtS, Stella Maris, Sailors’ Society and The Seafarers’ Charity came together to host a major industry conference and reception titled ‘The ‘S’ in ESG – Seafarers,’ to discuss seafarer welfare and well-being. The event took place at the unique and historical Fishmongers’ Hall.

The conference opened with remarks from the Chair, Gemma Griffin, Vice President and Head of Global Crewing, DFDS, and featured two different panels that examined the central importance of seafarer welfare and well-being as the shipping industry moves toward more sustainable, safe, and diverse operations.

The first panel session focused on how maritime charities and the industry can collaborate effectively to enhance seafarer welfare. Graham Westgarth, Chairman of V Group and President of the UK Chamber of Shipping, delivered the first keynote speech where he highlighted the benefits of collaborative working and urged companies to work more closely with the charities. The panel included key representatives from the sector, such as MtS Secretary General, Andrew Wright, ISWAN CEO  Simon Grainge, Lene-Camilla, VP Head of People Claims at Gard AS; Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Head of Loss Prevention Asia-Pacific at North Standard; and Alex Walster, Head of ESG at Navigator Gas.

The second session discussed how the maritime charities and industry can support an increasingly diverse workforce. Heidi Heseltine, Diversity Study Group founder, and CEO at Halcyon Recruitment delivered a passionate keynote speech where she encouraged delegates to use their power to influence to make the changes needed to better the lives of seafarers.  This was followed by an apt debate which included panellists: Sailors’ Society CEO, Sara Baade, Stella Maris CEO, Tim Hill MBE, Nick Topham, Managing Director at Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement and Helen Tveitan de Jong, CE Carisbrooke Shipping Holding Ltd.

A few key quotes from the event:

“There is real value in the information that maritime charities hold, which can provide much value to us as an industry and the public at large”, said Graham Westgarth in his keynote speech.

“We have found that well-being is high on the list of many people in maritime. It would be a shame to give the impression that the industry doesn’t care. There is a bridge that is healthy”, said Andrew Wright.

“Maritime charities have a key role in helping the industry address issues regarding the “S” in ESG – said Alex Walster.

In her keynote speech, Heidi Heseltine said: “Your power to influence may lie within your own organisation… please make a commitment to hold yourself accountable to make a change that’s needed and to act for our seafarers”.

“For seafarers, it’s good to have communication available… but there needs to be a balance between what can be communicated to the seafarers, and what can be taken care of by the charities or shore-based support”, said Capt. Yves Vandenborn FNI.

Speaking on what is needed to recruit a diverse workforce, Tim Hill MBE said: “There has to be a will to change… if you’re going to fish from that talent pool, you have to set targets… you have to actively recruit [a diverse workforce]”.

“To support charities in terms of diversity, we are offering support to those that we fund by providing an external audit of their organisation,” said Deborah Layde.

In a joint statement regarding the event, the four charities said:

“Seafaring can be tough. This is why the world’s seafarers deserve decent working conditions and support for their welfare. Many shipping companies recognise this, but when they don’t, maritime welfare charities are often relied upon to step in and pick up the pieces. Everyone has a role to play and the least we can do is ensure seafarers are aware of the range of welfare support available to them. Through collaborating as maritime charities with ship owners and managers, P&I Clubs, flag states, legal firms, and supra-national bodies we can ensure that the welfare and well-being of all seafarers and fishers remain in sharp focus. Working together with the wider industry, we can provide the world’s 1.9 million seafarers and their families with the support and empowerment they need.

Moreover, on Thursday 14th of September, The Mission to Seafarers attended a breakfast roundtable hosted by Inmarsat to discuss Seafarer Welfare challenges and potential solutions, using the data from the Seafarers Happiness Index. The gathering delved into various aspects of seafarer welfare, including a review of the SIN23 Singapore Executive Crew Welfare Roundtable.

Through collaborative approaches and with the Seafarers’ Happiness Index serving as a vital tool, they identified key themes such as accommodation, shore leave, workload, diversity, and stakeholder engagement were identified. They also explored actionable initiatives like ship design collaboration, port incentives, welfare clauses, partner engagement, and data gathering.

Each of these dimensions represents a critical aspect of seafarer well-being, underscoring the necessity for comprehensive efforts to enhance their quality of life at sea. The diverse and insightful discussion has deepened our understanding of the complex factor influencing seafarers’ happiness as revealed in the latest SHI.

The Mission has made progress in transitioning from identifying challenges to proposing solutions. The next step is to assess ongoing initiatives and advance them to bring about tangible changes during the upcoming roundtable on November 6th in Singapore.

In the evening, we had the honour to attend the LISW23 Gala Dinner – a fabulous black-tie event held at Evolution London. We’re grateful to have been in attendance as one of four supporting charities that led the dinner collection on the night.

The Mission to Seafarers finished the week with a Special Lunch at Stationers’ Hall, for 30 of our key corporate supporters.  It was the opportunity to thank donors and update them on our work.

During the week, MtS representatives also attended the launch of the second edition of the Shipping Risk Forum where Vice President Esben Poulsson’s book, ‘Maritime Matters’, was available for purchase. All proceeds from book sales will support The Mission’s vital work in caring for those who work at sea.

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