Sessions from the red room at The Superyacht Forum: Crew Welfare
Red Ensign Group’s discussion opened the lid on what needs to change to improve conditions for seafarers…
When discussing how to improve practices in yachting the elephant in the room seems to revolve around the treatment of crew. That was not the case at Red Ensign Group’s Crew Welfare session at The Superyacht Forum, however. Attendees aimed to answer the question: ‘Why is crew welfare a hot topic in the commercial sector?’ Matters concerning seafarer’s mental and physical health were central to the debate.
One of the major issues crew must contend with is the social media induced ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO). Although feeling homesick has been a reality since the dawn of seafarers’ time, in the social media era the worry of missing significant social events is heightened by the ability to see photos of and comments on social occasions involving friends and family. FOMO is felt especially keenly by the younger generation, who typically make up crew, due to their status as digital natives (those who have grown up with the internet).
James Hatcher, Senior Maritime Policy Adviser and Shipping Master at Cayman Islands Shipping Registry, emphasised that the pandemic made underlying issues more actually felt than ever: “COVID really highlighted seafarer’s treatment”. Hatcher expanded on the unique treatment of crew by policy makers: “We still see legislation that is allied to seafarers that are not applied to other workers”. John Cousley, Head of Seafarers at Department for Transport, concurred that policy makers have a responsibility to the crew.
Sexual harassment is another area that has become increasingly central to concerns over crew welfare. As any crew member knows any complaints must be reported to the captain and they often don't go further up than that. This means that the problem is dealt with, or not dealt with, internally. Attendees expressed concern that an offender need only be fired and re-hired to escape punishment or consequences. Other delegates at the session pointed out that there are routes to report abuse but crew are not always aware these channels even exist.
Even if the crew were aware, would they even try to seek help or report malpractice? Hatcher argued that some would not: “Seafarers tend to be very stoic, they don’t complain and may not even know what their protections are.” Murmurs of agreement echoed as the question over whether the crew would rather resign than ask for help was discussed.
A possible antidote to the current challenges to crew welfare that was proposed was a mobile app. While an online platform may not be most people’s first course of action to solve the multitude of issues that arose during the session, it can offer an outlet for crew members who are struggling with the difficulties of living away from home.
Isle of Man Ship Registry has created such a service via an app aptly named ‘crew matters’. The mobile application has been developed by seafarers in partnership with Liverpool-based training company Tapiit Live. The digital tool offers a range of services from advice about what to do in an emergency health situation, such as CPR, hypothermia, and panic attacks, to courses that instruct on sport, yoga and meditation.
However, the more necessary function the app provides to crew is as a central point of access to vital services in order to feel supported by a larger network than exists aboard the vessel they work on. This necessary service features in the support section of the application and includes a range of websites that offer advice on financial, spiritual and expert informative support to seafarers. International services that are featured include independent trade union Nautilus’ tools and a confidential helpline from the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN).
More recently the app integrated a section with Ukraine Crisis Support Resources that includes advice in Ukrainian and Russian on how to manage the changing conditions for Ukrainian seafarers and support on managing stress.
Isle of Man Ship Registry director Cameron Mitchell spoke about the app during its initial launch: “Safety is a fundamental pillar of our ethos as a high-quality flag state,” he said. “The app provides structured welfare support for the seafarer, ranging from a health and wellbeing self help library that includes nutritional advice, through to Tapiit’s live streamed and interactive support sessions,” Mitchell explained. Mitchell elaborated:
“Users will have access to a full month’s agenda of physical and mental wellbeing classes and educational trainings, including fitness and yoga sessions. Seafarers can also log their work and rest hours, and if they feel stressed or unwell there is a live SOS function which provides immediate access to the Seafarers Help Live Chat, which is free, confidential and available 24-7. In addition, the app connects with global seafarer charity Stella Maris and enables seafarers to find contact details for the organisation’s chaplains in 54 countries around the world."
Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of Nautilus International, said: “Seafarers can be away from friends and family for many months at a time, undertaking vital yet often physically and mentally difficult work. This new app will mean that seafarers and Nautilus members will have access to news, support and vital contacts to make sure that they have everything they need while they are at sea. “We are pleased to see the Isle of Man Ship Registry continuing to find ways to maintain high standards for the flag and we are pleased that their seafarer welfare app will help us to fulfil our commitments to being wherever our members are. We look forward to seeing the app develop further to support seafarers on Isle of Man flagged ships."
As was highlighted during The Superyacht Forum, due to the impact of influencers posting superyacht content online there is an increasing level of applicants that have little to no experience of what it means to spend months on end away at sea. Services that offer support to crew are arguably more necessary than ever with higher levels of applicants from those with little previous experience of yachting.
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