A new 24-hour nine-language seafarer helpline, iCall, has been launched by The Synergy Marine Group, in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and iCall. Intended to address growing industry concerns around seafarer wellbeing, the service hopes to reduce seafarer suicides, raise awareness of mental health and gender, and equip participants with self-help coping mechanisms for addressing their own distress and/or help them offer support to others at sea. The service is available free-of-charge via phone, email, and the chat-based nULTA App.
Captain Rajesh Unni, founder and CEO of the Synergy Marine Group noted in his inaugural address that the service was designed especially to address the needs of South and Southeast Asian seafarers whose unique socio-cultural backgrounds are not as carefully considered in pre-existing approaches to seafarer wellbeing. Aparna Joshi, the project director of iCall, said that iCall’s one-of-a-kind psycho-social curriculum is specifically tailored to respond to seafarer wellbeing and the building of sustainable solutions to longstanding issues, including tackling the stigma around mental health. Both appeared to position the issue of wellbeing and mental health as something to be engaged with on individual, company-wide, and industry-wide levels.
Stressing the need for seafarer organisations to commit to a culture that promotes seafarer wellbeing and wellness at sea, Unni said, “The worrisome fact is that the majority of the callers to the iCall Helpline are in the age group of 18–25. This clearly indicates that we need our senior officers on board to understand and enhance mental wellbeing at sea and also respond to the emotional or psychological distress of seafarers onboard.” He thus called for mandatory training for all senior ship board staff so that they not only promote systems that allow for good mental health, but also have the necessary skills to ensure intervention in cases of distress.
Notably, the launch of iCall noted that an increased need for gender sensitivity within any tackling of seafarer wellness and the larger maritime industry. With the recent appointments of the first female master mariner to the Synergy fleet, first female marine superintendent ashore, and the first Filipino female cadet on board a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carrier, addressing the unique challenges women face in the shipping industry and the toll this may take on mental health sets this programme apart. iCall thus offers the chance to build skills for responding to concerns of mental health empathetically in a gender sensitive manner, and offering gender sensitive approaches to seafarer wellness at sea.