What Seafarers Told Us Q3 2020

So what did we learn in Q3 2020? Well, there is still frustration and issues with crew changes. Tiredness, stress and fatigue on the rise. Worries about reducing of manpower, with more to do, though one positive has been the drop in visitors to vessels.

This has meant some reduction in paperwork, reportedly. Training is a concern, both the fact that certificates are being rolled over. Also some impact onboard of training eating into rest time.

Messages from seafarers stuck at home, many reported facing financial ruin and having to shift careers. Could be a long tail problem ahead. Seafarers bored with mundane, same meals day in day out, and difficulties of accessing exercise.

Importance of connectivity stressed time and time again. Especially to understand what is happening at home and how their families are being affected by COVID.

Data

  • The average SHI results showed happiness levels of seafarers at 6.35/10 surprisingly up from 6.18 in Q2.
  • Happiness levels took a rather surprising uptick this time round.
  • There was some positivity early in the Quarter, and signs of an increasing optimism as national borders appeared to be opening once more.
  • As the Quarter closed, there was very much a sense that the second wave of COVID-19 was beginning to put paid to hopes of many to get home, or indeed back to work.
  • As optimism evaporated, seafarers felt they were “reaching the end of their tether”.
  • The data plunged as the Quarter progressed – with a sense that the initial hopes of leave were dashed.

General Impressions

  • “Life during COVID is hell” was a response that seemed to capture much of the mood unfortunately.
  • Frustration as trips have gone far over the expected time frames.
  • Tolerance is being stretched and working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for such sustained periods is taking a toll.
  • Crew who perform manual tasks feel utterly exhausted, their bodies, as well as their spirits, are approaching broken.
  • Tensions are rising. Masters and officers were accused of working crews without due consideration of the circumstances
  • Calls for the pressures of the job to be scaled back. “We are working as hard as ever for longer than ever” ran one comment.
  • The pressures of vetting were mentioned on multiple occasions, and there were once again numerous reports of bullying, with nationality seemingly the biggest catalyst for such problems.
  • Another said, “I was a glass half full guy and was a happy soul for the most part. That was until my relief was more than a month overdue”.

Life Onboard

  • Seafarers are trying to find as much solace in their work as possible. Using it as a means of blocking out the concerns about crew changes.
  • There were repeated messages of frustration though, with many seafarers bemoaning the cutting of crew numbers.
  • Reducing manpower and increasing paperwork is felt by many to be an absolute recipe for disaster.
  • One positive from COVID was fewer visitors onboard, so less paperwork
  • An increased sense of unity onboard, as seafarers were struggling through extended contracts together.
  • However, there was a real sense of frustration, where issues such as race, politics and bullying onboard were creating a poisonous atmosphere.
  • Criticism of shore management, and some “outdated views” on life onboard.
  • Those who spoke positively said that times to have shared activities, even something as basic as meal-times are vital to help maintain relationships.

Concerns About Training

  • Training is currently almost non-existent. It feels that many seafarers see themselves as almost in a holding pattern.
  • Seafarers are not attending colleges, and many ticket renewals have been automatically rolled over.
  • There were questions raised as to whether this will ultimately impact on standards.
  • Complaints that courses delivered onboard are eating into rest time. There were repeated comments that “excessive training takes away rest hours”.

Leave and Shoreleave

  • There can be no ignoring the problems of shore leave during a pandemic. Time and time again seafarers stated that due to the pandemic it is impossible to get shore leave.
  • Though many were also pleased to stay onboard, as they felt vulnerable to infection in some of the nations visited.
  • For some, even where there is an opportunity for shore leave, they would “rather sleep than go ashore”.
  • Where seafarers spoke in terms of actual leave, crew feel trapped, isolated, worried and just want to get home to their families.

Wages

  • The issue of wages saw an increase once again, and there was a sense from respondents that they were glad to have money coming in during a time of uncertainty.
  • We also received a number of responses from seafarers who are facing financial ruin as they cannot join vessels. Messages of desperation as seafarers are being forced to contemplate career changes.

Food and Diet

  • Meals are becoming more of a focal point and an important time for rallying crews together. So, food being even more a part of improving mental health and wellbeing onboard.
  • A number of respondents said that meal times were the only opportunity for them to see others onboard, and to have some opportunity to relax and even talk.
  • Not all were so positive, and there were some vessels which had instigated staggered meal times to assist in social distancing, and this was seen as detrimental to life onboard.
  • There were also signs that some seafarers have been running through the same menu for many months, and have become increasingly bored by the meals on offer.

Health and Fitness

  • The extended periods that many crew have had to spend onboard has been a health and fitness boost to some, and a real problem to others.
  • Some seafarers have thrown themselves into losing weight or becoming fitter.
  • Unfortunately, on some vessels group activities such as basketball have been stopped due to demands for social distancing.

Communication and Contact

  • There was one comment which summed up this question better than any other, and which seemingly captures the current predicament too, “The only reason to smile is the contact to my family”.
  • Communication has also become all the more essential as families at home are facing health emergencies. Being connected is no longer simply important it is absolutely vital.
  • A number of respondents also spoke of the fact that rumour and “fake news” about the conditions back at home have become prevalent, and so being able to actually talk to relatives, to be able to find out what is happening has also become crucial to mental wellbeing.

Welfare Facilities

  • The obvious impact of seafarers not being allowed ashore is that access to, and use of, seafarers centres has dropped.
  • Seafarers spoke of their frustration at not being allowed to even get ashore to pop into centres.
  • However, there was much praise and gratitude to welfare volunteers
  • Seafarers spoke with respect and gratitude of those who have continued to support and have been a welcome and visible presence.
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