Crew feel unsupported during COVID-19, Seafarers Happiness Index shows

Marine deck officer on deck of an offshore vessel. Credit: Getty Images

Seafarer happiness is lower, due to extended contracts, lack of shore leave, connectivity, and concerns around mental wellbeing amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to the latest Seafarers’ Happiness Index, published on 4 May.

The index, carried out by charity Mission to Seafarers, showed overall seafarer happiness dropping from 6.39 in Q4 2019 to 6.30 in Q1 2020. Crew said this was due to the restrictions on movement put in place during the pandemic, which has caused the extension of crew contracts.

With some extensions adding up to four months to current contracts, according to David Hammond CEO Human Rights at Sea, seafarer workloads have been impacted and have exacerbated a sense of detachment between ship and shore. “There is wide-spread discontent and we are becoming aware of various degrees of calls to strike if crew changes cannot be made to work,” Hammond told SAS.

Further, the restrictions on movement have extended to shore leave meaning that seafarers are unable to benefit from welfare facilities ashore, which in turn has impacted their mental wellbeing.

Hammond noted that any crew member that is able to go ashore voluntarily should be quarantined for 14 days before they return onboard. However, this is not happening due to the lack of surplus crew members on lean-manned vessels, and the lack of medical facilities to deal with COVID-19 complications.

“Crew are increasing calling for quarantine facilities to be made available ashore after sign off so that they do not return home and potentially infect families and neighbours. Social exclusion by families and neighbours continues to be reported as a problem for returning crew,” explained Hammond.

The index found that seafarers are also feeling more isolated from their loved ones and are calling for improved connectivity between ship and shore during the pandemic.

Moreover, the index found that tensions onboard have been exacerbated due to seafarers worrying about their families and are unable to relax, which has put a strain on relationships with fellow crew members.

According to the index, seafarers are also experiencing increased criticism around their work including higher expectations to keep vessels to “hospital standards” of hygiene.

Crew responses to the index were unified in that the combination of increased workloads, extended contracts, and isolation from their families has increased levels of stress, anxiety, and fatigue on board during the pandemic.

“This pivotal edition of the Happiness Index highlights the pressures and fears of those serving on board during the COVID-19 pandemic. By collecting and sharing this information, we are helping to inform the many facets of the maritime industry of the critical concerns of our seafarers at this most challenging time,” said Louise Hall, director Loss Prevention, Shipowners’ Club.