The latest Seafarers Happiness Report is a special focus on the impact of COVID-19 on seafarers. We did ask our usual set of questions…and here we look at the conclusions from seafarers.
Once more we must thank all those seafarers who took the time to share their thoughts with us, and we are extremely grateful. They told us the things which really frustrate and concern them, the things that make a positive difference, and offered some opportunities for improvement.
We separately reported comments about COVID-19 in this latest report and stressed that seafarers claim not enough is being done to ensure the safety of those on board. They reported feeling physically exhausted, mentally disturbed, homesick and anxious.
The issue of crew changes has been an important one, and seafarers feel forced to serve beyond their contract period and are being asked to renew their contracts to avoid censure.
Crews reported feeling relatively safe onboard, but are very worried about people coming aboard who may spread infection. While there are also unrealistic pressures as policies which demand “zero contact” are difficult to manage. However, the issue of PPE is a problem, both the lack of it onboard, or cases where officials come onboard, but are not properly or adequately protected.
Crews feel they are doing their best to serve the world under these stressful times, and they do so knowing that their lives are potentially at stake. There is a sense of pride in doing so, which will hopefully be reflected as States deem seafarers as key workers.
Within the more usual happiness reporting, there were key concerns which were repeatedly aired by seafarers across our questions. Some of this mirrored the responses which have gone before, but there were new areas of concern too. Alas despite the slight rise numerically, the general impression from those who wrote tended to be more negative than has become the norm.
The comments captured a subdued, concerned and downbeat mood, which seemingly descended further as the early months of the year progressed. Fatigue, stress, and pressure were being felt and reported.
The lowest points this time saw a growing trend of crew experiencing mental abuse from superiors, with “name calling and harassment”. Other concerns appeared to be the length of contracts, which are further extended owing to COVID-19, without access to shore leave, and with no idea of when they might get home.
Workload seemed a key theme, with a growing sense of too much work, and not enough time or people. There were numerous criticisms about the way in which work, and expectations are managed ashore, with the quality of management support deteriorating but with more performance pressure and less manpower.
Perhaps prompted by this, there were also signs of tensions onboard. The COVID-19 situation means that seafarers feel trapped onboard which highlights some of the social tensions or difficulties associated with mixed nationality crews. The current situation has shown that there are problems when it comes to keeping people happy, entertained, and stimulated. The camaraderie of a crew can be sorely tested when seafarers feel under stress.
Events sometimes conspire to make debate irrelevant, and the effect of a global pandemic has rendered concerns about shore leave as seemingly academic. Seafarers are currently not getting ashore as it would put either themselves or the people in places they visit at risk. Most accepted this situation, and there was an air of pragmatism from most seafarers.
The sense of maritime lockdown has further stressed the role of connectivity in happiness, and in the words of one seafarer, but echoing many, “Nothing is better than being able to contact home”. There is once more a growing number of respondents who feel that, “internet access is a basic necessity and should be provided free to all seafarers”. Crews want unlimited high-speed Internet, and there have once again been calls to change the Maritime Labour Convention to reflect this.
In difficult times there is perhaps even more focus on food. With seafarers being stuck onboard ship, and with crew changes uncertain, meals become even more important. For those who are served good food, well prepared and in a style they enjoy, this has a major impact on their happiness levels. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. Where crews are served poor quality ingredients, badly prepared and in a way which does not reflect their culture and diet, then this has a huge impact on their enjoyment of being at sea.
The issue of exercise onboard, and the ability to keep fit and healthy falls into three main categories. There are those who can access good quality gym provisions, and who feel they have the time to use them, there are those without equipment, and there are those who have the equipment but no time to use them. Hard working schedules onboard, and the associated fatigue, are definite barriers to exercise and adopting a healthy lifestyle onboard. As stated by one respondent, “workload and overtime sometimes are overwhelming, therefore it impacts the mood to go to gym or any type of exercises”.
In other index areas, wage concerns arose. Inflation in seafarer nations was compared against perceived stagnation in wages, and is an issue causing anxiety. Respondents spoke of being on the same salary while expenses at home shoot up.
Elsewhere the issue of welfare provisions ashore has become something of a moot point as seafarers are stuck onboard. Seafarers have expressed their frustrations at not being able to access centres and services. It is hoped that as the global pandemic slows, then seafarer movement will once again be allowed, and crews will be back visiting centres and make good use of them.