By Alizée Dussault
The well-being and mental health of seafarers have been a topic seen in the media for a few years now, although the maritime industry remains largely unknown to the general public. However, the subject has never been as hot as it is today, as the Covid-19 pandemic has left more than 300,000 crew members trapped aboard their ships. Despite the publication of many press articles as well as the holding of a virtual summit on the subject, the inaction of the leaders towards resuming crew changes is still ongoing. It is now more than ever crucial that the voices of maritime workers be heard.
A recent survey conducted by The Mission to Seafarers addressed to sailors trapped on board around the world revealed that the happiness index of these workers, essential to the proper functioning of our society, is declining. Already rather weak after the first round of the survey in 2020, this famous index of well-being stood at 6.30 out of a ranking of 10. The recent publication of the second round of the survey, carried out recently, indicates that the index has fallen to 6.18.
Life on board ships is not always easy, even outside of a pandemic. A lot of seafarers work for long periods of several months in a row, living in the same small space and interacting with a very limited number of people. However, because of Covid-19, the crew changes are not happening since the beginning of the crisis and a significant number of workers are being denied a return to their homes after an exceptionally long period at sea.
In addition, there are many factors caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that are worsening the seafarer’s situation. Without any access to shore due to preventive restrictions, crew members have no way of changing their surroundings for even a few minutes. In addition, some individuals with medical needs such as dental treatment have not been able to consult for several months. Trapped in the same cramped space, crew members do not have it easy on board. The demanding sanitary measures seem to create more worry than reassurance, paradoxically, as if the recurring disinfection of surfaces only reminded crew members of the reality of the situation. This being true at all times, each worker’s state of mind is easily affected by the other’s, and it does not take long for the entire crew to sink into a general gloom as from a ripple effect. In addition to not being pleasant for anyone, this kind of social climate can lead to tensions among the crew, threatening the good functioning on board, and even increasing the risk of unfortunate accidents.
Social distancing on board also prevents workers from supporting each other, since isolation and estrangement are required in common areas. Sometimes deprived of communication with their loved ones, due to the lack of a cellular network, sailors are indeed left to their own in a climate fraught with uncertainty. The moral fatigue caused by the current situation among the seafarers is worrying; action must be taken immediately to repatriate workers before serious accidents occur. The little-known reality of seafarers is being felt more than ever as a crisis is underway and no concrete action towards universal crew changes has yet been taken. Yet it is a vital workforce operating at the heart of our industries, and represents s a huge number of individuals affected. Even more so in times of a pandemic, let us not forget those who make it possible to move our essential resources and goods. The inaction must end now.
To access the survey, additional information and testimonials, click HERE.