Q1 2021: Making Sense of it All

Thank you to all those seafarers who took the time to share their thoughts with us. 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.

The average SHI results showed happiness levels of seafarers for the first Quarter of 2021 at 6.46, ever so slightly climbing up from 6.37/10 – which itself was a very marginal climb from 6.35 in Q3.

While it was good to see a rise in overall Seafarer Happiness Index results for this Quarter, there can be no shying away from some concerning comments and responses.

The positive feedback surrounds improvements to connectivity, and there are some indications the crew change crisis could be easing. However, as some nations are edging into the third wave of infections any progress could be swiftly lost. There appeared to also be continued improvements to food and facilities onboard. Both areas are welcomed by respondents.

It was also seen that despite shoreleave problems, and seafarers struggling to access welfare centres, there was praise and gratitude for the centre staff who still managed to get support and care packages onto vessels. This was making a difference to morale.

However not all was positive, there was also a sense of tension in the report. Seafarers feel that they should, indeed they must be designated and recognised as key workers. They are concerned about the impact of vaccines and how they will get theirs. We heard multiple questions about the logistics for a crew of getting one shot of a vaccine, and worries that it may not be possible to get two, especially of the same brand, and of what that means. There are concerns and questions being asked, and it seems a dearth of useful responses.

We also heard from seafarers about the frustration that despite shipping being fundamental to society, crews seem to be the forgotten figures so often. This was seemingly brought to something of a head when the Suez Canal closure had the world’s press waking to the importance of shipping. Why then, asked many seafarers, aren’t they adequately recognised and rewarded?

There were more key takeaways from the latest report and considering that the report showed positive numbers it may be a surprise to see us focus on negatives. However, the feedback we received is of extremely serious issues and ones which need to be taken with the utmost concern by the industry.

We had repeated reports about xenophobia onboard, and how the delicate social balances onboard are at risk through the attitudes and actions of some seafarers and even shore management towards others. There is a sense of a growing divide and a feeling of resentment. Pressures onboard are rising, and there were many seafarers than normal talking of bullying, harassment, and frictions on their ships.

There were more serious issues, and these ranged from the relatively easy to remedy, with seafarers stating that they were not having good enough bedding, and were thus not sleeping well. Through to the rather more challenging issues of certificate fraud and falsification of working hours.

The issue of certification fraud was raised. Indeed, respondents claimed they knew some of their colleagues onboard were sailing with dubiously awarded certificates. The Index is collected anonymously, so it was not possible to dig too much into these allegations. However, it is something that does need to be treated seriously.

Another major concern is that of workload, and repeated respondents told us that rest hours are not being complied with. Indeed they spoke of an endemic and systematic culture of fraud, It was claimed that pressures to make things appear compliant on paper are coming at the expense of seafarers.

Seafarers are telling us that the systems do not reflect the realities of their work, and they repeatedly and consistently spoke of pressures to sign against working hours which do not reflect what they had actually worked.  It seems there is a massive hidden problem, which means that all the focus on improvements is seemingly and worryingly built on a potentially fraudulent foundation.

We always need more data, and to hear the stories of more seafarers…and for those who have already done so, to share again. So please visit www.happyatsea.org to find out more, and to complete the survey. We also want these reports to be spread as far and wide across shipping as possible, so please do share these findings. We must also thank the companies which have approached us about setting up bespoke happiness surveys for their own fleets as they see the value in benchmarking their performance against the wider population of seafarers.

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