The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing crew-change crisis – later exacerbated by the escalation of the war in Ukraine – disrupted supply chains and had a significant impact on crew welfare, leaving seafarers stranded at sea for months at a time facing acute emotional hardship. The situation did yield one positive outcome: its widespread media coverage helped to thrust shipping – and seafarers – into the public consciousness.
The crew-change crisis highlighted to a mainstream audience the critical role shipping plays in the global economy, shining a light on the sacrifice seafarers make and the challenges they face in their daily lives – and inspiring a collaborative effort from the industry to improve crew welfare, which was heartening to see.
As a result of the heightened attention on crew welfare, seafarers were recognised as key workers, and plans to include mandatory onboard internet access in an amendment to the Maritime Labour Convention were accelerated. However, while onboard connectivity has made it easier for seafarers to maintain contact with friends and family on shore, it has also given rise to an “alarming trend” among the maritime workforce.
Since high-speed crew connectivity has become more prevalent, onboard isolation has increased. Seafarers are now spending more time in their cabins on their own devices and less time socialising with their shipmates. When it comes to crew welfare, onboard internet access is a double-edged sword. Its use should complement and not replace genuine social interaction, and this calls for a renewed focus on work–life balance and rest and recreation opportunities on board.
Another potential source of anxiety is the transition to a more digitalised and decarbonised maritime environment. The changes brought by the digital and energy transitions can be challenging and stressful for vessel personnel. Upskilling and reskilling are essential to help crew manage these changes, while shipping companies, governments, regulators and technology providers need to collaborate on new training programmes and support systems for seafarers. Shoreside staff can also help crew to get to grips with new technologies.
In addition to equipping seafarers with the competencies to excel in their evolving roles, efforts should be made to ensure crew are mentally capable of handling the stresses of modern shipping with the mandatory implementation of measures promoting emotional well-being on board. This is something that can be done now, for example, there is a clear opportunity for shipping companies to provide crew with remote access to psychologists trained to deal with the maritime workforce specifically – and for this to be made a regulatory requirement.
With seafarers working long hours in challenging conditions, often with limited resources, shipping companies need to encourage a better work–life balance on board their vessels, while training and mental-health support should be among the industry’s top priorities. Ultimately, by working together, we can all make a significant and positive difference to the lives of seafarers worldwide – and this is something we will continue to strive towards at Wallem Group.
*Source: Wallem Group, By Praveen Shukla, Wallem Group Technical Director