Global governments have been told they are sleepwalking into a seafarers’ crisis which would have serious implications fire the global supply chain.
P&I insurer the Standard Club has said there is a serious and growing seafarer recruitment and retention crisis, which requires governments and ship managers take steps to allow more shore time and improve conditions onboard ships.
The warning comes in the publication of the Club’s 2021 Seafarers Happiness Index which found seafarer happiness levels have reached an all-time low, driven by the extra strain of spending months aboard without any shore time as COVID restrictions bite.
The detailed report, based on thousands of anonymised responses to 10 key questions, is compiled quarterly by the welfare charity Mission to Seafarers, with support from Standard Club and ship manager Wallem. It describes an increasingly demoralised workforce already facing heavy workloads and variable conditions aboard feeling the pressure of the lack of shore time, coupled with perceived low wages.
“We are sleepwalking to a manning crisis,” said Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention at Standard Club. “Resentment is brewing amongst this critical workforce due to the lack of shore leave, uncertainty of trip duration, draconian COVID testing and general lack of recognition.”
The report said despite the efforts of the international maritime community over the past two years, seafarers are still not designated as key workers.
It added: “However, as we have seen in many reports before, there are clear frustrations and challenges being faced. We are also hearing even louder calls for seafarers to be recognised as key or essential workers.
“These calls cannot and should not be ignored, and without an adequate response it seems likely that many may be seeking to leave their seagoing careers.”
“Crews from across the world took time to share their views, feelings, experiences, and comments about life at sea, providing incredibly powerful and important insight into key issues for seafarers today,” the report added. “The overall average was 6.41 down from 6.59 in the previous quarter. There were some rises in areas such as shore leave, connectivity, training and food. However, these were very small increases, and overall the trend was far less positive.
“The impact of the latest Omicron COVID variant and the rush to close borders hit seafarers especially hard in the final month of 2021. This was especially unfortunate given the timing around the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
“It appears that the yo-yo nature of COVID is having a serious impact on mental health and is driving negative sentiment on board. Seafarers raised concerns about the draconian nature of repeated testing and expressed concerns about the quality of quarantine provision.
“There has been a growing sense that COVID has moved the issue of internet connectivity forward, and there are signs of progress. When it comes to shore leave, however, it was noted that seafarers do not expect to get ashore, and the pandemic has changed the dynamic further.
“There are signs of growing tension, as vaccinated seafarers feel that they should be able to get ashore.”
The Standard Club, as a signatory to the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, said once again it was calling on authorities around the world to assign key worker status to the global seafaring workforce to facilitate crew changes and support the logistics of crew travel.
“Over the last two years Standard Club has worked with its members, providing information as well as recommending and sharing best practice strategies to improve seafarer wellbeing during the pandemic,” said Vandenborn. “The Club is now urging the wider industry to prioritise seafarers’ conditions. Whilst shore-leave and travel restrictions are out of the hands of shipping companies, life onboard is not and varies widely across the industry.
“The Seafarers Happiness Index report clearly shows that the ability to keep fit and healthy, the provision of good internet connections, training and protected rest hours, correlate with seafarer happiness levels.”