Sailors’ Society calls for mandatory seafarer wellness training

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Almost 2,000 people have signed a petition raised by seafarer charity Sailors’ Society to the International Labour Organization (ILO) that calls for a change to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to make wellness training for seafarers mandatory.

Sailors’ Society said that the instalment of mandatory wellness at sea training would represent a landmark way of saying that the mental health of the 1.6 million seafarers working in the industry matters.

The petition to the ILO is a part of the charity’s campaign to tackle suicide and depression at sea through the ‘Not On My Watch’ campaign. The campaign was launched by Sailors’ Society in response to an image shared on social media of a seafarer who hanged himself off the side of a ship.

Sandra Welch, deputy CEO and director of programme at Sailors’ Society, told Safety at Sea, “That photo graphically illustrated that enough is enough. We had to do more.” Welch reports that the charity started talking out about this issue on social media and Aditya Giri, director at Humans at Sea, later approached them asking if he could help in any way.

Giri speaks to more than a million seafarers across his social media platforms, saying that mental health is one of the big issues that seafarers contact him about. Having lost a colleague to suicide himself, while at sea, Giri told Sailors’ Society that mental health issues were something he felt personally passionate about and became the first person to sign the petition.

Aditya shared his personal experience of the devastating impact of depression at sea. While sailing in the Atlantic Ocean, one of his crew members jumped off the ship to his death. The crew, had no idea that their friend was depressed, were devastated to find a suicide note in his cabin.

Aditya said, “I was in denial, disheartened at my core, and shocked to accept that a person who was making jokes and laughing with us a few hours earlier would take such a step. I fell into depression myself, burdened with one remorseful thought that clouded my mind at all times, could I have saved his life?”

“This experience has helped me realise the importance of sharing your problems and asking your shipmates if they are facing any issues themselves. A simple acknowledgement could save someone’s life.”

Sailors’ Society has received support for this campaign from other industry influencers such as the Nautical Institute and the Merchant Navy Welfare Board. Welch said several maritime colleges have approached the charity asking for materials that they can use for their crew.

The success of the petition has come as a surprise to Welch, when the petition was originally launched she did not know what kind of response would be received. But just a couple of weeks in, it is clear that this is a huge issue for seafarers. The petition has gathered 1,925 signatures so far, from 80 countries, and the number of signatories is increasing every day.

Welch told Safety at Sea that they are also receiving incredibly emotive responses from seafarers who are signing because they have personally suffered from or lost people to depression.

Across the industry depression and suicide rates are still shockingly high. Studies have found that more than 25% of seafarers suffer from depression, with at least 6% of deaths at sea recorded as suicide – six times the percentage of UK deaths recorded as suicide.

Welch commented that the petition to amend the MLC is just one of the tools that the charity wants to use to change the way the industry responds to one of the biggest problems it faces. Sailors’ Society wants to see a step change in attitudes to make seafarer welfare a priority and reduce the levels of depression and suicide.

Welch added, “Seafarers tell us that wellness training makes them more confident to handle the pressures of life at sea. If more seafarers are equipped with basic wellness training, they will be empowered to identify the signs of depression and know how to get help.”

“We believe this will have a significant impact on seafarers’ mental health and reduce the number of suicides at sea.”