Demand for crew support grows
Calls to ISWAN’s crew helpline have increased with rising trends in reports of poor mental health, unpaid wages and abuse…
The International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) has reported a 54% year-on-year increase in demand for its Yacht Crew Help helpline in its 2022-2023 Annual Review. The report highlights rising concerns for seafarer mental health whilst at sea, but also increasing instances of abuse and unpaid wages.
“This report covers ISWAN activities from 1st April 2022 to 31st March 2023, a period when we saw the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic recede only to be followed by the war in Ukraine and its ongoing impact on seafarers,” says Karin Orsel, Chair of ISWAN’s board of trustees. “Our helplines SeafarerHelp and Yacht Crew Help continue to demonstrate their worth to seafarers and their families with solid practical and emotional support.”
ISWAN’s helplines are free, confidential, multilingual lifelines for seafarers and superyacht crew and both are available 24 hours a day throughout the year. Its superyacht crew-specific service is a relatively new helpline having been established in 2018, but has grown steadily, leading to a greater understanding of the nuanced challenges faced by crew. The service has increasingly been recognised by employers, with ISWAN now operating 19 helplines commissioned by companies to provide specific support to their crew.
Over the course of the year (1st April 2022 to 31st March 2023), Yacht Crew Help recorded 292 new cases, assisted 369 seafarers and handled 764 calls and messages in total. The main concern raised by crew contacting the helpline was psychological health difficulties, which increased by 20% compared to the same period in the year prior.
The report alluded to other alarming concerns too. Other notable trends were issues relating to contract issues increased by 22% year-on-year as well as a sharp increase of 41% in calls relating to unpaid wages. Worryingly, abuse, bullying, harassment and discrimination contacts increased by 63% year-on-year, accounting for 8% of all issues raised and 13% of all issues raised by women.
A case study detailed in the report highlights such an incident where ISWAN’s Yacht Crew Help received a WhatsApp message from a distressed stewardess on a yacht in a European port. She claimed to have been verbally and physically abused by the captain and wanted to leave the vessel, but it was late at night and she was in a foreign country.
At the time of messaging, she was locked in her cabin, but the captain had previously forced his way in. ISWAN’s helpline officer checked that the stewardess was safe and took her location. While a colleague searched for the nearest seafarers’ centre, the helpline officer maintained contact with the stewardess as she packed her belongings and prepared to disembark.
The Yacht Crew Help team then connected the distressed individual with a female staff member at the seafarers’ centre in the local port, who then met her at the yacht within 20 minutes and accompanied her to safety. Yacht Crew Help later received a message of thanks and relief for finding the helpline in her moment of need.
“One of the most satisfying things for me working on the helpline is to be able to provide a listening ear for the seafarers globally and support them through challenging times,” says the Helpline Officer who helped the stewardess. “It feels good to know from a seafarer that they feel better after talking to us and to assure them that their mental health matters, they matter.”
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