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Health and safety

Train officers in stress management, urge medical experts

5 January 2021

Ships' officers should be trained to deal with stress management and cultural differences among multinational crews, a new study by German maritime medical experts has concluded.

Researchers from Hamburg and Flensburg universities interviewed more than 320 seafarers and found that European officers were much more likely to suffer mental stress – with most blaming it on their high levels of responsibility and extensive administrative work.

Other major stress factors for officers were concerns about the standards of their shipmates, commercial pressures, and problems with shore-based staff.

Crew members from Southeast Asia were more likely to experience physical stress, the study found, although they reported significantly higher rates of feeling lonely onboard. Almost one-quarter of seafarers from Southeast Asia said they felt 'sad and depressed' while at sea, compared with just over 10% of Europeans.

The study – published in the International Journal of Maritime Health – also found that European officers were more than twice as likely as Southeast Asian seafarers to suffer stress because of irregular working hours.

The report recommends that prospective officers are trained to deal with 'the special stress situations of ship operation' and to 'recognise and take into account cultural differences in the stress perception and needs of subordinate crew members'.

The researchers noted that linguistic and cultural differences between crew members can lead to significant problems onboard and recommended specialist diversity training – which is common in workplaces ashore – would help to improve the wellbeing of crew members.

The researchers found that while maritime universities considered that 'appropriate' training would be useful, they had not developed courses because of a lack of available time.

'For most of them, the compulsory portion of the STCW is "so large and so packed" that training to reduce stress (for example, anti-fatigue training), even within compulsory or optional subjects, is not possible,' the report notes.