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By Conor Feasey

ISWAN reports rise in abuse

The seafarer welfare organisation has recently released alarming data suggesting that cases of abuse are on the rise…

The number of incidents related to abuse, bullying, harassment, or discrimination (ABHD) has increased by 81.3% year-on-year, according to the International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network's (ISWAN) data from Yacht Crew Help. This trend raises questions about the industry's culture and the need for action to address the issue.

ISWAN's report revealed that contacts to the Yacht Crew Help helpline related to ABHD have been steadily increasing. Notably, the helpline is still relatively new having been established in 2018. So drawing definitive conclusions about the entire industry based on its data, which supported 300 crew members in 2022, may not be entirely representative of the entire industry.

Despite the limited sample size, however, the data indicates that these increasing experiences of ABHD had a significant impact on the mental health of the yacht crew. Nearly a quarter (24.3%) of yacht crew who contacted Yacht Crew Help for mental health challenges also reported experiencing some form of abuse, and ABHD issues accounted for 9.2% of all concerns raised through the helpline.

The data also shows an increase in new cases, signalling potentially increased severity or a reluctance among crew members to report incidents. This could indicate that the issue is more prevalent than reported and that there is a need for a safer environment for the crew to report abuse. The increase in cases is also attributable to a myriad of reasons crew contact ISWAN, whether it be for simple information requests, job concerns, or access to its library of resources. 

Some research and anecdotal evidence suggests that crew are leaving the industry due to abuse. Turnover appears to be highest among interior crew, especially women, with 13.5% of women raising issues related to abuse, compared to 5.8% of men.

The rise in abusive behaviour within the superyacht industry is not a new problem, but industry stakeholders are now joining forces to address it. More crew are coming forward to share their stories. In September, ISWAN released a resource aimed at supporting yacht crew in finding paid or voluntary work safely.

The entire industry, including crew, must be educated on these matters to address this issue. All yachts and employers should have clear, visible policies on bullying, harassment, crew mental health, and wellbeing.

ISWAN suggests that responsibility for addressing this issue falls on flag states, employers, and management agencies. It is crucial for these entities to actively participate in fostering a safer and more supportive work environment for the superyacht crew.

As concerns continue to mount over the rise in abuse cases within the superyacht industry, it is evident that immediate and comprehensive action is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of all crew members. Collaboration between industry stakeholders, clear policies, and support services are critical to addressing and preventing abuse in this sector.

A zero-tolerance approach to abusive behaviour is essential, and abusers should no longer be able to hide behind NDAs and fear. More visible support services for crew, like ones offered by ISWAN, Nautilus International and other institutions, should be readily available to assist those who have experienced abuse or have concerns.

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