Worried about work and home

Crews voice Covid-19-related concerns in the Seafarers Happiness Index

By Steven Jones

Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) gauges the big issues affecting those at sea, and there can be few things in living memory which has affected shipping, and thus crews, like Covid-19. This is something that is naturally reflected in the latest set of responses from seafarers.

The data for the latest report has been gathered in the first quarter of 2020, and so captures a slow dawning realisation that things are changing for the worse and shifting fast. As far as the numbers go, the latest average seafarers’ happiness score stands at 6.30, which is down from the fourth quarter of 2019 (6.39), which was also down from third quarter 2019 (6.59). There is definite downward momentum, which is a concern although perhaps not surprising.

Starting with the data from January 2020, one can almost sense a growing feeling of confusion, and of responses changing as the landscape has shifted around them. There is perhaps no set of workers more exposed to a pandemic than seafarers. Whether from a health perspective or through the terrible unfolding truth that nations are very quick to shut the door on them, even if they still want the cargo, goods and fuel.

The reality of the virus has meant that nations have been closing their borders and crew changes have been delayed for long periods, perhaps indefinitely. There are moves to quarantine crews, and shipping companies have been renewing contracts of employment, even where seafarers are desperate to go home.

Shore leave, already a problematic issue, has become a remnant of a different age. Ports are locked down and seafarers are simply not allowed to leave their vessels. In many nations, the closure of entertainment venues such as pubs, clubs and bars has led to the shuttering of seafarer centres.

There are real fears too of contracting the illness, and the questions of where, when and how they will get treatment have come to the fore. Seafarers feel trapped, concerned for their own health but also struggling to comprehend what is happening in their home countries and to loved ones. With nations in lockdown many seafarers report feeling utterly helpless, and sadly useless to their families.

All this change in a matter of months, if not weeks, has led to a massive sense of uncertainty, worry and even fear. To be at sea in times of crisis is perhaps one of the most difficult experiences for seafarers to cope with and seafarers responding to the SHI report a growing sense of isolation. Responses have highlighted frustration relating to company responses and certain flag States, and annoyance about the draconian immigration rules which have started to appear.

Some seafarers seem resigned to the problems and just want to be helped to deal with their concerns and their need to either get back home, or at the very least, to have regular contact with home. Thankfully some companies and technology providers have responded to the need for improved connectivity and, where this was happening, seafarers reported a great sense of relief.

For others, there has been some sense of (albeit reluctant) acceptance. With companies increasingly stating that crew changes are suspended that at least provides some certainty, if no succour.

Times are bad, but there is also an overwhelming sense of pride that seafarers and shipping can make a difference. Crews are reading of supermarket shelves being empty, of panic buying and the like, and are proud that seafarers around the world are doing everything they can to help keep the shelves full and society supplied with the important goods it needs.

Let’s hope the sacrifices of seafarers, their professionalism and their dedication are remembered in better times.

Steven Jones is the founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, in association with the Shipowners’ Club and Wallem Group. The 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, to see the data or read more in-depth reports, visit www.happyatsea.org for access to the latest results and to have your say.