Alex Wood

Crew changes - make mental health a priority

One of the great challenges the maritime industry faces / By Alex Wood

Swathes of seafarers are serving well beyond the terms of their original contracts amid the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

Separated from friends and family, supporting their mental health is now more important than ever before.

Navigate Response assembled a team of experts to discuss one of the great challenges the maritime industry faces.

During a one-hour live webinar on 21 September 2020 panellists from North P&I, Thome Group, Future Care and Navigate Response analysed the mental health crisis and what can be done to help.

"We are seeing an amplification of stressors on board, as well as an amplification of stress caused by the pandemic," said Dr Arthur Diskin, Global Medical Director at Future Care.

"There are crew members at sea, who are very concerned about families in areas with a high prevalence of Covid-19 cases.

"There's a lack of control and that can lead to mental health issues.

"You've also got a lack of contact with families, coupled with multiple extended stays at sea...

"Even walking around ports has now been virtually eliminated for members of crew.

"You've also got to factor in financial stresses.

"With this in mind, crew may be more prone to making mistakes and putting other crew members at risk." 

Belinda Ward, who is a Claims Director at North P&I Club, explained that her organisation are doing everything they can to support seafarers. 

"There is help available if you know where to look for it - and that's the key," she said.

"North introduced Mind Matters, which is a long term initiative looking at how our members and their crew tackle mental welfare issues. It incorporates and develops different programs, which we hope will provide some additional support.

"We are constantly reviewing ideas under this initiative and working with experts like Dr Diskin to bring new options to the table."

Simon Frank, Chief Human Resources Officer at Thome Group, echoed Ward's comments and highlighted the need to keep struggling seafarers engaged and occupied.

"We identified some mental health challenges on board and our focus became how can we support our seafarers," said Frank.

"We created a circular that we sent out on a weekly basis with updates and instructions

"Another focus was setting up competitions and online meetings online."

Internet access is increasingly seen as crucial in the fight to improve the mental health of seafarers during these tough times.

Dustin Eno, COO & Crisis Response Manager at Navigate Response, believes the importance of connectivity cannot be underplayed - and a recent high-profile incident proves that.

"A survey last year from the ITF seafarers trust and Yale University found that more frequent email and internet access was associated with a decreased risk of suicidal thoughts," explained Eno. "80 per cent of seafarers have suggested they'd move employers to get more internet access on board.

"With the Wakashio incident in the Mauritius, it's been reported that the quest for internet access was a possible reason the vessel strayed too close to the shore.

"It's still under investigation, but the fact that it's believable speaks to the importance seafarers place - and rightly so - on internet access.

"It's essential that they can speak to family and friends - that support group plays such an integral role in positive mental health."

* You can watch the full webinar here.

Email: awood@navigatepr.com

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