Waking up to wellbeing

As more events are being held to discuss the importance of crew wellbeing, seafarers should find ways to lend their voice to the call for change too. Tanya Blake, editor, Safety at Sea.

There are still far too many instances of crew abandonment, poor working conditions on board, poor mental health, and high seafarer suicide rates being reported. These kinds of issues should simply not occur in 2018.

Many of the solutions are not rocket science and if we can ensure safe and supportive work environments ashore, we can surely do the same at sea. This is not to say that we have not made progress with crew welfare; 86 flag states (representing 90% of the global fleet) have ratified the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, which sets out minimum living and working standards operators must adhere to. There are also excellent maritime companies that go above and beyond the convention.

Furthermore, the recent Sailors’ Society Wellness at Sea conference held in London on 16 March was an example of the greater openness in talking about wellbeing in shipping. While it was noted there were few shipowners or managers present in the room, there were some, and the hope is that shipping is slowly waking up to its responsibility to provide all crew on all ships with safe and secure working conditions that do not create physical or mental illness problems for the crew they rely upon so much. It is important that seafarers are also aware of their rights when it comes to wellbeing at work. They can confidentially report breaches of MLC 2006 to security officers, masters, owners, or port state control, with Seafarers Rights and Human Rights at Sea providing online guides.

Euronav CEO Paddy Rodgers told the Wellness at Sea conference, “The changes we may see [in shipping wellness practices] may not be through breach of conventions but through social shunning [caused] by someone tweeting about poor conditions.” Social media is a powerful tool; a way for those with little or no voice to reach a potentially enormous global audience. Crew have previously contacted SAS and other media outlets via Twitter in a bid to raise attention about poor conditions on board, or the fact that they have been abandoned, without wages for months on end. Posting a picture of you and your fellow crew having to set up living quarters on deck and having to drink dirty water is a powerful image and a difficult one for a company to ignore or explain away.

Meanwhile, at the Wellness at Sea conference a seafarer shared his own very personal story of depression and bullying after joining a new vessel. This kind of sharing is not only brave but also important in highlighting problems that persist on board and demonstrating that there is a way out for fellow crew suffering similar issues. Every time anyone speaks out about their experience, that is one more voice lent to the call for crew wellbeing to be taken seriously.

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