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Article: Seafarer mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic

23 April 2020

COVID-19 has forced many parts of the world to enforce a lockdown in a bid to flatten the curve in terms of transmissions. In these trying times, the majority of public services have come to a standstill, yet ships must continue sailing to keep the world supplied with essentials such as food, medical supplies, and goods. Such realities have only compounded the magnitude of the challenges, but international organisations are stepping in to assist and shoulder these responsibilities alongside seafarers.

This pandemic has cast a multitude of challenges unto seafarers. Those sailing are facing prolonged contracts on board, a total absence of shore leave, mental stress from sailing to various ports where there is a high risk of contracting the virus, isolation on board etc. Even if seafarers are able to sign off from the ship, they will likely face a two-week quarantine, after which they would still have to secure flights home, that is if flights are even available. Other seafarers are in lockdown at their homes and unable to work, threatening the family’s financial income if they are the sole breadwinner, which is often the case.

These issues naturally cause a high risk for the seafarer’s mental wellbeing.

International organisations have recognised seafarers’ plight and are banding together to provide various sources of helplines for them. We highly recommend for our members to review and consider the following examples, though surely there might be others that are not listed below.

The Mission to Seafarers

  • Launched a focus on “digital chaplaincy” where they support chaplains in maintaining digital and social media contact with their seafarer networks
  • Launched a “Chat to a Chaplain” service, allowing 25 chaplains at any one time to connect with seafarers who may want to talk or seek support and advice
  • WeCare programmes will also be working closely with seafarers’ families to provide training in terms of social media, safe use of internet, as well as financial literacy.


ISWAN

  • Launched an emergency charity crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for developing world seafarers and their families that have been severely impacted by COVID-19
  • Launched a new video featuring advice from Dr Kate Thompson, a counselling psychologist. The topic of managing seafarers’ mental and physical wellbeing during COVID-19 on board and ashore are discussed at length in this informative video.


Sailors’ Society

  • Launched a dedicated page on their website to provide resources such as posters, podcasts, and tips on maintaining mental wellbeing.


International Maritime Employers Council

  • Launched a social media campaign #ISupplyTheWorld to spread the message of the work that maritime workers are undertaking during COVID-19. Maritime workers are encouraged to photograph themselves with a printed campaign poster and post on social media with the hashtag #ISupplyTheWorld.

Videotel

  • Offering free access to their new training package: Seafarers’ Mental Health and Wellbeing. The training package explores what seafarers can do to improve their mental health and wellbeing so that they can deal better with the many challenges of life onboard.

In fact, seafarer wellbeing has been a focal topic for The Standard Club's Loss Prevention team, particularly in recent years. Seafarer wellbeing is a holistic concept combining physical, mental, and social wellbeing. The club’s latest attempt to reach out to seafarers led to the development of a poster campaign focusing on four topics considered to have the biggest impact on seafarer wellbeing, in modern times – healthy eating, fitness, mental wellbeing and socialisation. Whilst these issues and the associated advice, tips and information is relevant to the daily lives of present-day seafarers, it does not reflect the impact of COVID-19. Seafarers should therefore follow the latest advice on how to care for your health and protect others during the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website and through your national and local public health authority.

Seafarers should know that they are not alone during this pandemic and there are many helplines available for them and their families. With a continued focus on maintaining a healthy mind and body, seafarers will keep themselves and others safe. It is vital to keep calm and stay strong, together with support from international organisations, friends and family, we will weather this storm.