‘YO-YO’ effect in COVID-19 infections and restrictions causing havoc for seafarers

Feb 03 2022

COVID uncertainty and fluctuations led to major impact in seafarer welfare; The Mission to Seafarers reiterates call for key worker status and further investment in seafarer support during 2022.

The Q4 2021 Seafarers Happiness Index report, published by The Mission to Seafarers, reveals the sustained impact of COVID-19 throughout the year, with the Index’s measure of overall happiness decreasing from 6.59 to 6.41.
The survey, undertaken with the support of Wallem Group and the Standard Club, highlights that 2021 saw seafarer happiness rise and fall throughout the year, a trend that mirrors the waves of COVID infections. Where there has been an opening up of economies and international movement, seafarer sentiment has improved, while in times of rising infections and restrictions on movement, happiness levels among seafarers have fallen. This clear correlation highlights how national decisions impact international seafarers.
A wellbeing crisis
With unpredictable variants and different rates of outbreaks across the world, the ‘yo-yo’ nature of the pandemic is having a serious impact on mental health. Seafarers raised concerns about the draconian nature of repeated COVID testing, as well as the quality of quarantine provision. Relationships onboard are strained and there have been an increasing number of seafarers talking of bullying, harassment, and frictions on their ships. Growing numbers are reporting of plans for a career change, warning that a shortage of replacement crews and a drain of seafarers away from the industry will be imminent.
The gap in connectivity grows
The report highlights that progress is being made on the issue of ship-shore connectivity, with seafarers reporting online access has increased. Seafarers also expressed their gratitude for campaigns to deliver free access to calls or internet access over the holiday period.
However, the survey highlighted a very clear divide between vessels that provided free or affordable access, compared to those that do not. There is a chasm in the responses, and more and more seafarers are stating that they always check what access they will have before accepting new contracts.
Recognition for the invisible front-line workers
Seafarers responding to the survey highlighted the lack of recognition as key workers, despite so many initiatives in support of this status. In addition, concerns were expressed over limited freedom of movement, a shortage of vaccinations, and a perception that the profits of shipping companies are not being fed back into the workforce who keep seaborne trade going.
Some respondents also reported that standards were dropping. It is immensely concerning that practical training for emergencies appears to be falling away. However, it is perhaps a consequence of the reality of seafarers spending too long at sea. There is apathy creeping in, even about standards and safety. Careful, considered management is needed to make seafarers engage with safety once more.

Andrew Wright, Secretary-General of The Mission to Seafarers, said:
“This latest Seafarers Happiness Index report reveals the long-term impact of the pandemic on our global seafarers. With different variants emerging, new waves of infections and fluctuations between freedom and lockdown, seafarers are dealing with constant uncertainty. This confirms the importance of key worker status for our seafarers, which will help ensure crew changes regardless of how the pandemic develops and support the logistics of crew travel.
“Looking at the results of 2021 as a whole, we hope this report will encourage organisations to recognise the lessons for 2022, when it comes to investing in their seafarers, whether it is continuing to improve connectivity, adjusting working hours, or enhancing training. It is about understanding the challenges and making a difference to support the men and women serving at sea. Thank you to all those seafarers for sharing their experiences so the industry can continue to develop with seafarer well-being at its heart.”
John-Kaare Aune, CEO, Wallem Group, commented:

“In what has been the most challenging period in recent history for many of us, these brave women and men have sacrificed more than most, facing unthinkable circumstances to ensure the global supply chain remains intact, the wheels of trade keep turning and our supermarket shelves stay stocked. 
“The Q4 and annual review findings from the Seafarers Happiness Index are worrying to see, in particular the Yo-Yo of seafarer happiness. Despite seafarers undeniably qualifying as ‘key workers’ in our eyes, governments are not affording them the respect and recognition that their efforts so clearly merit. 
“The ongoing crew-change crisis, which has directly affected many of Wallem’s own seafarers, highlights the need for an international conversation on crew welfare. In the meantime, governments must collaborate to facilitate crew changes and ensure that ship personnel can access critical services and assistance – including medical care, emotional support, shore leave and repatriation – whenever required.”
Captain Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, the Standard Club, added:
We all need seafarers to keep world trade alive, yet this report highlights a lack of regard for their welfare and dignity. Analysis and extrapolation of 2021 results indicate that there is much to be done. The ability to call home, take shore leave, undergo training and enjoy protected rest hours should be standard for all. Taking care of our people is in all of our interests. The Standard Club will continue to work with its members to share best practice and encourage better treatment of seafarers. Seafaring is a challenging but rewarding career and I will continue to strive for improvements in this industry which I have committed a lifetime to.

To read the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, click here


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