Deep dive on seafarer well-being

Study to track trends and showcase best practice on diversity and inclusion

By Heidi Heseltine

The Diversity Study Group (DSG), an expert in maritime diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), has launched a seafarer DEIB data gathering and benchmarking initiative in response to concerns across the industry regarding our ability to attract and retain seafarers and ensure that we are providing everyone with a physically and psychologically safe working culture and environment.

Ship operators Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, Ardmore Shipping and Dorian LPG are founding members to the project, which is supported by The Mission to Seafarers, Sailors Society and ISWAN.

The initiative tracks crew member demographics as well as data relating to psychological and physical safety and well-being, enabling members to take a granular look at the successes and challenges of onboard DEIB programmes while accounting for the unique constraints of a diverse global workforce at sea. Year-on-year tracking will identify emerging trends, successful outcomes and ongoing challenges, showcase best practice, and allows DSG to employ its expertise to strengthen supportive working cultures.

The project has been designed to help address some widely recognised challenges in the industry. These include the acknowledged problem with seafarers leaving the industry post-Covid and a lack of new talent coming in. It is estimated that about 1.9 million seafarers currently serve the world merchant fleet, operating over 74,000 vessels around the globe and there is a predicted shortfall of about 90,000 officers by 2026.

Furthermore, reports undertaken among the seafaring community also cite ineffective shipboard leadership, social isolation, power abuse on board, inappropriate behaviour and a lack of equity in relation to development opportunities and financial remuneration as having a negative impact on working life at sea. One study of the seafaring community (Bullying and Harassment in the Danish Merchant Fleet) found that 17% of respondents reported exposure to bullying and stated: “The number and scope of reported cases of threats of violence, bullying and harassment makes it unlikely that the issue merely covers individual people, individual shipping companies, or individual segments of the sector… results describe a broadly rooted culture of bullying, with an adverse impact on the mental health of many seafarers”. All of these issues are likely to be contributing factors to a declining seafarer population.

Global problem

While data in the maritime sector remains limited, we can gain further insights into what seafarers might be experiencing when we consider global statistics for those in employment. It was reported by the ILO in 2021 that, across the world, 22.8% or 743 million persons in employment had experienced psychological, physical or sexual harassment and/or assault at work, women being only slightly more likely than men to have experienced it (by 0.8 percent- age points).

As the data gathered for the seafarer DEIB initiative will be gathered anonymously through DSG as a third party, this will provide people with a safe space in which to speak up. This data will play a vital role in equipping organisations and the industry with the statistics to support long term change and development. The DSG has been successfully running a similar initiative for shore-based employees within the global maritime sector for over 5 years.

The aim of the collaboration between DSG and The Mission to Seafarers, in addition to other charities supporting the initiative, will be to raise further awareness on key issues arising from the data and to consider the actions needed to address them, be these at an industry or organisational level. The ultimate ambition of everyone involved is to provide our seafarers with a physically and psychologically safe working environment where everyone can be themselves and has equal opportunity to thrive.

For further information, reach out to DSG via email: [email protected].