ICS survey paints positive picture for crew connectivity

first officer working at computer in ship's office. Credit: Joachim Affeldt

Internet access for seafarers personal use is more widespread on board commercial vessels than previously thought, according to a new survey from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA).

About 276 operators with 11,665 ships took part in the survey – a result representing about 14% of the global fleet. The majority of companies (60%) stated that they believe the provision of internet access for seafarers’ personal use improved their mental health and wellbeing.

Despite long-standing industry concerns that internet access may keep seafarers from resting adequately, 85% of firms surveyed said that their employees’ rest had either been unaffected or improved. There is also speculation that increased communication with family could generate anxiety among workers at sea, but the survey found that levels of home-related stress remained the same across the majority of connected vessels.

“This survey provides a very optimistic picture not only of the positive impact of access to the internet for the seafarer, but also of the industry’s readiness to embrace technology that will be commonplace in the future,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of ICS. “If you had asked the same operators whether they offered crew personal access to the internet only five years ago the results would have been very different.”

The issue of web connectivity has been central to discussions of seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing for the past several years. While it is not known exactly what percentage of the world’s seafarers have reliable internet access, the correlation between connectivity and wellbeing is well-documented.

A 2017 survey of 2,000 seafarers by maritime trade union Nautilus International found that, although most crew members had internet access, they were on limited Wi-Fi speeds at a high cost. Some 57% of seafarers reported having personal email access, with around one-third having social media access at sea.

In an edition of the quarterly Seafarers Happiness Index survey published last year, the maritime charity Mission to Seafarers found that internet connectivity is the single most important factor in crew satisfaction with life at sea.