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Seafarers’ wellbeing and ship safety: The role of Internet onboard

Seafarers’ wellbeing and ship safety: The role of Internet onboard
July 25, 2022

Improving crew welfare onboard is not only a necessity for the shipping industry to show it cares for its seafarers, but also a contributing factor to ship safety, experts agreed during a webinar organized by the Standard P&I Club on the occasion of the Day of the Seafarer, last month.

The pandemic brought major disruptions in shipping, but one of its positive aspects was that it put a spotlight on wellbeing, noted Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention at Standard Club. The most recent updates of Seafarers’ Happiness Index, published by The Mission to Seafarers and providing quarterly reports on crew welfare, show a curve over the past months, with the lowest levels recorded in Q2 2021 (amid COVID-19), but also in Q1 2022.

“They (seafarers) want better connectivity; they want better food; Shore leave is a massive issue, the fact that so few seafarers are even getting the slightest bit of break away from a vessel. They want wages to reflect what they feel is the work done…they want training that reflects the job that they do… they want entertainment, they want exercise, they want people ashore to understand them,”…said Steven Jones, Founder of The Seafarer’s Happiness Index.

Seafarers’ concerns for 2022

War zones and attacks
Tensions onboard
Freedom of movement
Connection to family
COVID coming back
Monkeypox outbreak

The geopolitical wrinkles around the world are felt constantly by seafarers and we need to listen to the seafarers to understand the implications of them and what we can do about it,

…he added.

Internet connectivity VS social interaction onboard

Internet connectivity is one of the main requests contributing to seafarers’ wellbeing, with more and more shipping companies deploying VSATs to provide better connectivity onboard, continued Capt. Vandenborn. This is reflected in the recent MLC changes that will make it a requirement to provide connectivity onboard ships, he stressed.

However, commenting on the “flip side” of connectivity onboard, Capt. Vandenborn stressed how sometimes the Internet onboard makes crews simply disappear into their cabins because they want to communicate with their own people. This is why ISWAN recently proposed, as part of its ongoing Social Interaction Matters (SIM) Project, the appointment of a voluntary ‘Social Ambassador’ onboard every vessel to help convene social activities and promote crew engagement.

“(Connectivity) is of course very important and it helps the wellbeing of that seafarer, but it comes at a cost to the social cohesion onboard ships. And that is something that I feel there needs to be a balance and shipowners need to find a way to improve that social cohesion onboard ships. If you are able to get a happy crew onboard, if they start caring for each other instead of only caring for their own part, they will improve the safety culture onboard ships,

…Capt. Vandenborn commented.

The link of crew welfare to ship safety

Seafarers’ wellbeing definitely has an impact on vessel’s safety, highlighted Thom Herbert Idwal Senior Marine Surveyor and Crew Welfare Advocate, but there are many other conditions affecting ship safety, including overall maintenance, condition of machinery, planned maintenance systems, etc.

If you’ve got a lot of unhappy, dissatisfied, fatigued, world-weary seafarers onboard, your vessel could certainly get worse. So, it’s not always looking at the positive; there’s a constant negative to all of this as well. Investing in crew, making sure that they have the best chance to do the job, to live well, to enjoy their career at sea is an important fundamental of this,

…said Mr. Jones.

“Improving the welfare will maybe not necessarily immediately improve the condition but it’s definitely a contributing factor to it,

…added Capt. Vandenborn.

The role of connectivity in crew happiness and ship safety

“If you will trust a person with a hundred-million-pound vessel, you should perhaps trust them with a mobile phone and Wi-Fi access”, pointed out Mr. Jones. But while constituting one of seafarers’ main requests associated with higher satisfaction onboard, Internet connectivity remains a key area of safety concern for shipping.

“I don’t think that it’s fair and accurate to assume that if there was unlimited access that it would only be used to all the time. Seafarers are professionals they do the job day in day out,

…stressed Mr. Herbert.

“I think it is really important that seafarers are able to communicate with their family, but again, in order to improve the social cohesion onboard, there needs to be a system or an opportunity onboard if they are receiving bad news from their family, they need to have the means of talking with somebody onboard the ship about it, so that they are not going to stay in their cabin locked up and depressed about what is happening,

…added Capt. Vandenborn, while noting that education on the shoreside is equally important as providing the proper means of communication onboard:

We need to educate the shoreside as well. If the shoreside does not have the proper procedures in place to be able to deal with the bullying onboard ships, then onboard nothing is going to change. If they are not putting proper procedures in place to when and where onboard ship Wi-Fi can be accessed, it will create problems.