Communication is vital for seafarers’ wellbeing during COVID-19

Seafarer making VoIP call from the Bridge. Credit: MFAME

Improved communication from both shore to sea and vice versa is key to alleviating seafarer worries and improve mental wellbeing and safety aboard during the pandemic, industry experts agree.

“It is the role of ship managers and owners to ensure they are open with seafarers and let them know what is happening, how the situation will affect their sign off, and what the shoreside is doing to give them comfort during the pandemic,” said Yves Vandenborn director, loss prevention, at a Standard P&I Club at a webinar.

Caitlyn Vaughn, project manager at the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) said that seafarers contacting ISWAN have felt distrust towards their employers due to a lack of open communication. “Even when there is no update and the company is doing what they can, but are restricted due to the various problems associated with COVID-19, it’s paramount to keep seafarers onboard and at home updated,” Vaughn advised.

Vandenborn noted that without messages from their employers  seafarers are looking to other sources of communication, for example social media, to get vital information on COVID-19. “I have concerns over the accuracy of the information seafarers are getting from these sources,” commented Vandenborn.

Reading news and messages via social media may well increase crew’s feelings of uncertainty and anxiety over the current situation. Vaughn stressed that the number of calls received to the ISWAN 24 hour telephone helpline has tripled over the last few months from seafarers asking for advice over issues associated with the pandemic.

Vandenborn noted that some crews are unable to seek emotional support by calling their families due to a lack of WiFi access on some vessels.

While ISWAN’s 24-hour telephone line SeafarerHelp has been getting a lot of calls from crew seeking help for stress and anxiety, crew have also raised concerns over the lack of personal protective equipment onboard. Some callers fear they do not have enough knowledge to carry out the correct COVID-19 procedures to keep safe onboard. This too could be averted through constant communication with the shoreside. “More communication will make sure seafarers imaginations don’t run away with them and dispel the feeling of being abandoned by everyone who can help them,” concluded Vaughn.