Interacting with the sharp end – our seafarers

Capt. Anuj Velankar, senior loss prevention adviser, UK P&I Club. Credit: UK P&I Club

Further interaction between shoreside and crew is needed to provide better guidance and create a safer environment at sea

I sailed for a considerable period at sea before joining P&I, and as a master, a substantial part of your time and resources is spent ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the crew. With P&I, I thought I would spend more time tackling the biggest challenges facing the shipping industry, such as oil spills, wreck removals, salvage, and other issues that dominate the headlines; however, my colleagues and I are more involved with illness and injuries to seafarers.

Although personally vested with helping fellow seafarers, it was also in the club’s financial interest to ensure that the ship’s crew were safer and taken care of. Traditionally, P&I clubs have tried to improve maritime safety by publishing and distributing high-quality guidance and publications to shore and ship staff.

During my interactions with the industry stakeholders, including seafarers, it is understood that today we have more than adequate information and company guidance available for ship staff. However, what lacks is the training and personal guidance, without which can lead to complacency or lack of knowledge on board. Therefore, P&I clubs need to look at innovative and fresh methods to add value to their membership.

To address this need, the UK Club sends its team members to carry out loss prevention visits on vessels (not ship surveys). The purpose of these visits is to guide crew members on safety practices and administer ship-specific guidance on how to make their vessels and working environment safer.

Although this has been appreciated by the membership, it does have its limitations. There is a limit to the number of ships that we can physically visit and sometimes, the operations being carried out on the vessel may not be conducive to proper interactions.
Therefore, it is important that the club engages with seafarers when they are on vacation, and we have been fortunate to receive our members’ support in calling us to their seminars to talk to their crew. As part of the insurance industry and as ex-seafarers, the club’s loss prevention team can bring a different and wider perspective to these seminars, making them both interesting and educational at the same time.

One of the challenges with crew seminars is the organisers often have a packed schedule that they need to complete. Hence, we are rarely allotted a time slot of more than 40 minutes to speak. Although we are grateful for any opportunity, it feels like we are only scratching the surface on a topic that is extremely important. The bigger issue I have noticed with the crew seminars is the participants are senior officers with a minority of junior officers in line for promotion.

We need to reach all crew members from messman to master as claims such as “slips, trips, and falls” (our leading claims category in injuries) is not limited to the more senior ranks. To overcome this oversight , we have started hosting roadshows in which we head into a city, visiting individual members and ship managers, and carrying out half-day to full-day training sessions and workshops with crew of all ranks.

The topics of these talks and workshops range from enclosed space casualties to mooring incidents and the 2020 sulphur regulations. Over the last few years, it is very encouraging to see the attention that mental health has received within the industry. As a club, we have sought other partners in the industry such as Mission to Seafarers to support programmes aimed at both seafarers and their families, facilitating collaborative initiatives to ensure our seafarers’ wellness is given importance.

While my role within P&I may not always be dealing with dramatic and eye-catching incidents, I find it gratifying to work with seafarers on a regular basis. The wellness of crew, from both physical and mental perspectives, is of utmost importance to the future of our industry. Admittedly, there is plenty of work to do, but it gives me immense pride to be part of a club that strives to improve the safety of seafarers, while providing support to deal with the emotional stress that can come with a life at sea.