Tensions rise as seafarers’ satisfaction falls

The world’s seafarers are growing increasingly disheartened with the war in Ukraine threatening the safety of vessels which have Russian and Ukrainian crew on board.

The Mission to Seafarers has issued its latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, which found seafarer satisfaction is at its lowest level for eight years. The index’s measure of overall happiness feel from 6.41 to 5.85 and levels have dropped and continue to drop across all categories.

The survey, undertaken with the support of the Standard Club, reports on the state of the world’s seafarers in the first quarter of the year and shows that a turbulent start to 2022 on many fronts has severely impacted seafarer happiness. From the COVID-19 Omicron variant to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and concerns over contractual issues, seafarers have faced a challenging few months, as morale on board has severely declined.

“Two years on from the outbreak of COVID-19, seafarers are still feeling the effects,” it said. “New variants of the virus continue to impact different countries, impacting seafarers who face a maze of different regulations, ongoing port restrictions, and in many cases limited or no shore leave. Even when seafarers do get ashore, many facilities are closed due to national restrictions, leaving them without support or basic services.”

Of growing concern is the deepening impact of the war in Ukraine. “Seafarers responding to the survey also were impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” said the index. “Many were concerned about their families and worried by tensions on board.

“On some ships, Russian and Ukrainian crew members are actively working together to try and ensure that relationships did not suffer, but as the war continues and misinformation spreads, tensions appear to be rising. Crew members from a host of nations including Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, expressed concerns about tensions on board, which has implications not only for social cohesion on board, but safety too.”

Andrew Wright, Secretary-General of The Mission to Seafarers, said: “It’s hugely concerning to see seafarer satisfaction decline quite significantly in our latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, though unsurprising. With the continued threat and disruption of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, seafarers face unprecedented challenges, which are exacerbated by restrictions on shore leave and crew changes.

“We hope that through the rest of 2022, organisations will take further meaningful steps to improve the welfare of crews and help boost seafarer happiness. With financial backing and compassionate leadership, there are still actions that they can be taken to improve seafarers’ quality of life. It is important to listen to and learn from seafarers’ experiences, to not only empathise with them, but work together to find practical solutions that will improve life at sea.”

Capt. Yves Vandenborn, director of loss prevention, at the Standard Club, added: “The substantial drop in seafarer happiness should be a wakeup call for the industry – we rely on seafarers every day for so much of what we take for granted – and yet, morale across the board has dropped as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and uncertainty around contracts.

“Seafarers around the world have traditionally worked as a tight and cohesive group, but now this is being severely tested as crews of all nationalities, particularly Russian and Ukrainian crew face rising tensions onboard as they receive little information or actual disinformation about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and contracts are extended with little or no consultation. One clear standout message from the report is the vital importance of providing clear and honest communication to ships at all times.

“The few positive comments from seafarers in this Seafarers Happiness Index should also be emphasised to show the importance of caring for our seafarers and how a small investment can go a long way – it really does make a difference to crew morale and outlook, providing both economic and mental health benefits. With this in mind, Standard Club will continue to work with its members to promote seafarer wellbeing, enhanced communication and best practice.”

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