The effects of bullying on crew

All too often junior seafarers are being abused by senior figures

Junior seafarers experience bullying by their superiors, making it more isolating and difficult to report. Credit: Getty

I have sailed on the high seas for 37 years, of which the past 26 I have worked as a chief engineer officer on a wide variety of ships, from containers, crude oil tankers to heavy lift, and chemical tankers. Unfortunately, for a long time now, I have received information from junior officers that they are being treated poorly, “like dogs”, by their superiors. It is of course a common thing in all levels of industry for young persons’ starting out in their career to pay their dues and carry out what are often the lowliest or dirtiest jobs. But, a certain degree of respect should be there at all times.

I have had young colleagues that told me they were having nightmares when they heard that a certain captain or chief engineer was scheduled to board their vessel. Furthermore, this bullying behaviour can cause the seafarer(s) to stop sailing altogether as they are so disappointed that their dream job became such a nightmare.

Bullying is a safety hazard. I have seen the effects first hand and the person being abused can be so afraid to do something wrong that they hide faults, change figures of soundings, start losing their concentration, use spare parts or do not report a change in stock because of a fault they made. They also lose sleep and show up tired on watch. In fact, all the abbreviations of the HSQE can be applied on the subject: health; a lack of sleep, safety; hiding or “forgetting” to report faults on critical equipment, quality; reduction of job performance, and environment; a damaging effect on the mental environment and wider team dynamics.

It would be interesting to know the opinion of other people on board and the relationship they have with their superiors. It would also be illuminating to know how the human resource or crewing department of the companies react to complaints about bullying and how many complaints are received or recorded. Are the young sailors afraid to complain about harassment and bad treatment so as not to lose their job? Can they send an anonymous report about these things? Can they talk to somebody in the office about their problems and be sure its confidential?

All too often sailors have the mentality to forget the less pleasant times and keep the good experiences, but perhaps this is because they fear what would happen if they rocked the boat.

Note from the editor

It is so important to hear from our readers about such issues that impact crew safety and wellbeing. We conducted a seafarer survey on bullying and its impact in late 2018 and the results can be found in our October 2018 issue of Safety at Sea magazine. The key finding was that 80% of respondents said they had experience or witnessed fellow crew being bullied, the majority, by a superior. This is an issue that needs tackling.