Better support following a serious incident

Crew need careful handling after a traumatic event

By Alvin Forster

The aftermath of an incident on board is when the atmosphere is most sombre, especially if it is one that involves serious or fatal injuries. At a time like this, the wellbeing of crewmembers must be prioritised.

Crewmembers’ reactions vary depending on their degree of interaction with the incident; being directly connected to the events that led to the incident, witnessing the incident unfold, administering first aid, or simply being caught up in the whirlwind of mixed emotions which follow. Trauma, anger, guilt, self-blame, ‘finger pointing’, or a fear of future similar incidents are amongst a plethora of emotions that can affect a crewmember’s mental health and performance.

Therefore, investigations must be carried out sensibly and with sensitivity, especially when there is potential of triggering emotional wounds.

Following an incident, it is not uncommon for inspectors, surveyors and lawyers representing different parties to attend on board to speak to the crew. Empathy is the ability to ‘step into the shoes’ of another person, to understand how they are feeling, and how things are from their perspective. Practicing empathy is useful when conducting interviews after a traumatic event, including the following tips:

  • Manage access to the crew: don’t allow third party surveyors and lawyers uncontrolled access to carry out interviews – take advice from your P&I Club and appointed lawyers.
  • Make sure the interviewee is at ease and comfortable.
  • Explain the purpose of the interview.
  • Ask open-ended questions that allows them to talk freely.
  • Be aware of their welfare throughout the session and take breaks where needed.

Above all, remember this isn’t an interrogation – it’s a means to find out what happened.

After care

Mental health issues manifest them- selves differently in each individual. Crewmembers should look out for each other, not just in the immediate days after the incident, but in the coming weeks and months, to ensure that everyone is coping well. This is imperative since there are numerous possible reasons why a seafarer may be reluctant to ask for help. For example, they might not recognise that their difficulties stem from a mental health problem; they fear what other people will think of them if they do ask for help; they don’t feel they would be supported by the company; or they worry that their future employment status or promotion prospects could be affected.

Owners and operators should consider liaising with international organisations or local charities in the next port of call that may be able to attend on board and provide emotional support, be it religious comfort or a listening ear.

NorthStandard has a slew of initiatives designed to assist members and seafarers. These include My Mind Matters, which provides information and resources for emotional wellbeing at sea, and Mind Call, a dedicated emotional support helpline available to seafarers on vessels entered with NorthStandard, operating 24 hours per day, 7 days a week throughout the year. Mind Call’s staff are trained in counselling skills and offer emotional support in a completely anonymous setting, enabling the crew to talk in confidence about their feelings and worries, whatever they may be.

Alvin Forster is a loss prevention executive at NorthStandard.

To find out more, go to Mind Matters | Information and resources for emotional wellbeing at sea (, Mind Call at Sea and Supporting Crew Through the Loss of a Colleague – North (