Seafarer happiness seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but fundamental welfare issues such as leave and poor treatment risk a long-term exodus of seafarers, according to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index from The Mission to Seafarers.
The third quarter report, conducted with support from Wallem Group and the Standard Club, suggests that Covid-19 related impositions on seafarers are beginning to ease, while support measures for seafarer welfare have now had a chance to take effect. However, challenges with shore leave and ship-shore connectivity remain.
Shore leave and extended contracts have been a huge challenge since the start of the pandemic, with 5% of seafarers responding reporting that they have been away at sea for over a year and a further 13% of respondents have served at sea for over 9 months, with the remainder reporting less than 9 months – so far.
The challenge of balancing home life with the uncertainties of the crew change crisis has led many who were tentatively considering a move ashore accelerating their career change plans. The report emphasises that many seafarers are not intending to return to sea once they eventually get home.
The issue of retention in an already stressed workforce is a major concern, says the report. 'There is likely to be a growing shortfall in seafarers in the coming years, with seemingly little or no coherent mechanism to manage the problems coming over the horizon. The seafaring experience and expertise that is potentially going to be lost should serve as a warning to all'.
Feedback on ship-to-shore connectivity shows that is still a contentious issue. Crews who either have no access or feel that it is poor quality, slow, patchy and expensive, are not happy. Many respondents see the issue of internet access as one of the most telling ways of assessing how a company feels about its crews.
The feedback also raises stark concerns over the affordability and rationing of internet access on board. The issue of the cost of online access came up repeatedly this quarter. One seafarer stated: 'Our internet on board costs US$25 for 100MB', indicating that fee structures are a huge potential challenge for seafarers. Others bemoaned the size of their internet allocation, with one stating that owners gave them 250MB for the whole month – potentially not even enough for one video call to their family.
Secretary-general of The Mission to Seafarers Andrew Wright commented: 'The issues relating to Covid-19 continue to impact seafarers and are likely to for some time to come. That said, the data suggests that crew sentiment has stabilised, which is at face value good to see. However, it is too soon to say whether this is a start of positive change, or if seafarers are simply more resilient to the situation they are experiencing because of the pandemic – in other words, whether the strains they have been placed under for the past 21 months are a "new normal."
'We urge every shipowner, operator and manager to study this report, listen to their crew and act on what is needed to address their needs, whether that is the longstanding issue of crew changes or, as we see in this latest survey, the costs and constraints on internet access, which can be a lifeline for homesick seafarers.'
- read the third quarter 2021 Seafarers Happiness Index report