From COVID to the Ukraine conflict and contractual concerns, global issues have massively impacted seafarer welfare and morale
The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published today by The Mission to Seafarers, reveals the lowest levels of seafarer satisfaction for eight years, with the Index’s measure of overall happiness decreasing from 6.41 to 5.85 and levels dropping across all categories.
The survey, undertaken with the support of the Standard Club, reports on Q1 2022 and shows that a turbulent start to 2022 on many fronts has severely impacted seafarer happiness. From the COVID-19 Omicron variant to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and concerns over contractual issues, seafarers have faced a challenging few months, as morale on board has severely declined.
The continued COVID-19 crisis
Two years on from the outbreak of COVID-19, seafarers are still feeling the effects. New variants of the virus continue to impact different countries, impacting seafarers who face a maze of different regulations, ongoing port restrictions, and in many cases limited or no shore leave. Even when seafarers do get ashore, many facilities are closed due to national restrictions, leaving them without support or basic services.
International conflict impacts crew camaraderie
Seafarers responding to the survey also were impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many were concerned about their families and worried by tensions on board. On some ships, Russian and Ukrainian crew members are actively working together to try and ensure that relationships did not suffer, but as the war continues and misinformation spreads, tensions appear to be rising. Crew members from a host of nations including Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, expressed concerns about tensions on board, which has implications not only for social cohesion on board, but safety too.
Crews concerned by contract issues
The survey highlighted that seafarers continue to face problems surrounding their employment rights, contractual issues and calls to be recognised as key workers. The issue of contract extensions was frequently mentioned when asking seafarers about their general happiness at sea and is impacting the mental health of crews that are effectively being forced to remain on board. Many are desperate to return home, especially as connectivity to speak to loved ones remains a huge challenge for seafarers.
Focus on welfare and wellbeing
Although the survey raises a wide array of issues that should be the cause of great concern for all ship owners, operators and managers, a number of seafarers also took the opportunity to share examples of steps taken to improve welfare and morale onboard. There was positive feedback from seafarers who spoke about some of the efforts made to make life at sea more comfortable and enjoyable, despite other concerns. This included examples of vessels having funds allocated for wellbeing events and activities, such as weekly crew gatherings, quizzes, karaoke, sports, TikTok video making, movie nights, and barbecues.
Andrew Wright, Secretary-General of The Mission to Seafarers, said: “It’s hugely concerning to see seafarer satisfaction decline quite significantly in our latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, though unsurprising. With the continued threat and disruption of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, seafarers face unprecedented challenges, which are exacerbated by restrictions on shore leave and crew changes.
We hope that through the rest of 2022, organisations will take further meaningful steps to improve the welfare of crews and help boost seafarer happiness. With financial backing and compassionate leadership, there are still actions that they can be taken to improve seafarers’ quality of life. It is important to listen to and learn from seafarers’ experiences, to not only empathise with them, but work together to find practical solutions that will improve life at sea.”
Capt Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, at the Standard Club, added: “The substantial drop in seafarer happiness should be a wakeup call for the industry – we rely on seafarers every day for so much of what we take for granted – and yet, morale across the board has dropped as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and uncertainty around contracts.
“Seafarers around the world have traditionally worked as a tight and cohesive group, but now this is being severely tested as crews of all nationalities, particularly Russian and Ukrainian crew face rising tensions onboard as they receive little information or actual disinformation about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and contracts are extended with little or no consultation. One clear standout message from the report is the vital importance of providing clear and honest communication to ships at all times.
“The few positive comments from seafarers in this Seafarers Happiness Index should also be emphasised to show the importance of caring for our seafarers and how a small investment can go a long way – it really does make a difference to crew morale and outlook, providing both economic and mental health benefits. With this in mind, Standard Club will continue to work with its members to promote seafarer wellbeing, enhanced communication and best practice.”
Forming a new partnership with The Mission to Seafarers for 2022 is Idwal. Idwal is a global leader in independent vessel inspections, driving asset integrity, sustainability, and transparency in the industry. Nick Owens, Idwal CEO said: “We have been supporters of Mission to Seafarers for many years and we are proud to develop this relationship further by sponsoring the Seafarers Happiness Index. We inspect hundreds of vessels a month, all around the world. We witness all kinds of conditions on board and we interact with crew every day. At a strategic level, we have several objectives around sustainability, one of which is to raise the importance of the health and wellbeing of crew within our products and initiatives. The Seafarers Happiness Index is a key barometer of crew wellbeing and helps to maintain a narrative on crew that correlates perfectly to our own initiative of assessing crew conditions on board as part of our vessel inspections. We are delighted to be working with The Mission to Seafarers and Standard P&I Club on the Seafarers Happiness Index to illuminate and ultimately alleviate or resolve these issues that affect our colleagues at sea and undermine the industry.”
On the Q1 2022 Seafarers Happiness Index report, Thom Herbert, Idwal Crew Wellbeing Advocate / Senior Marine Surveyor commented: “Given the backdrop of Omicron and the Ukraine conflict and following two years of pandemic lockdown, it is hardly surprising that the cracks appear to be deepening for our global seafarers. It’s desperately sad to hear of increased social issues between crew members as the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes its impact everywhere and, with such a sizeable percentage of crew coming from the affected areas, the industry as a whole should consider the implications for those on board. Sadly, the areas outlined in the Q1 2022 Seafarers Happiness Index echo much of what we hear from our own Idwal surveyors who are on board vessels every day and get a unique insight from crew. We often see first-hand how closely linked crew morale and wellbeing are to the efficient operation of the vessel and we are passionate about working together to improve visibility around crew matters, as well as driving transparency across the industry as a whole.”
To read the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, click here.