Seafarers voice their concerns

Fuel scapegoating worries and rising racism issues have come to the fore

By Steven Jones

The Seafarers Happiness Index allows crews to share detailed feed- back on the challenges facing them at sea, and the ways in which life can be improved. The latest report looked back at the final quarter of 2019, with seafarers discussing a range of key issues. Unfortunately, these latest results saw a drop in reported satisfaction, with the overall average slipping down to 6.13/10 from a high in the third quarter of 6.59. Of all our standard question areas, only connectivity saw a rise in the figures.

The happiest seafarers, according to the data, were those on container vessels. Seafarers aged between 25-35, from Africa and serving as engine crew were statistically the best performing and happiest during the study period.

While such averaging may be useful from a data perspective, it tells us little about the actual problems and concerns which seafarers are dealing with. For this, we require seafarers to write about what they are experiencing, and to share their impressions and feedback. Of late there have been some key issues which have really leapt out as we have been processing the data and reading the responses. These relate to concerns over criminalisation, and the rise of racism at sea.

The concerns about criminalisation stem directly from the IMO2020 low sulphur rules for marine fuels, which came into force in January. Seafarers expressed concern about the potential for them to be scapegoated, and indeed even criminalised in the event that vessels were deemed to be in breach of the new rules.

Thankfully it seems that is not yet a widespread experience, but the next phase could be far more stringently policed. As from March 1, 2020 there will be a total ban on the carriage of residual high sulphur fuel.

Credit: Adam Hollingworth

After this date port State control will check ships’ bunker tanks for non-compliant fuel. This is where we will start to see real checks on compliance, and potential enforcement actions, which could be where we see seafarers caught in the cross-fire – especially where there have been perceived failings in fuel management. Seafarers have said they do not feel adequately prepared, trained or experienced in issues such as co-mingling, compatibility and separation and they are also worried about the availability of compliant fuel.

Racism is an issue which is being mentioned more often, and there were several seafarers in the latest reporting period who spoke in detail about their negative experiences. From entire crews riven across race lines, through to the effect of a single senior officer, sadly it appears that racism is making life at sea miserable for those seafarers unfortunate enough to experience it.

Seafarers who suffered racism re- ported drastically reduced happiness index results, as you might expect. It is something which is causing misery and impacting the quality of life for some crews.

The Seafarers Happiness Index is designed to monitor and benchmark seafarer satisfaction levels by asking 10 key questions and serves as an important barometer of seafarer satisfaction with life at sea. Questions focus on a range of issues, from mental health and well-being, to working life and family contact. If you would like more information, see the data or read more in-depth reports, visit for access to the latest results and to have your say.