It's indeed worrying to note the declining trend over four successive quarters in 2023 in the index latest Seafarers Happiness Index, published by The Mission to Seafarers.
The Q4 2023 survey results show a wide range of reasons for this worrying trend, but common causes for concern expressed by seafarers taking part in the survey include feeling overburdened, underappreciated and disconnected, as well as concerns over a lack of shore leave and an inability to contact family.
The growing security threats to the lives of seafarers are also reflected in the results of the Q4 survey. It is clear that the escalating risks to seafarer safety from piracy, terrorism and war risks are having an impact on crew welfare. It is also adding to the workload burden on seafarers, due to the ramping up of security duties in higher risk waters. The survey also highlighted the importance of warlike operations area payments. However, there is likely to be a lag between the responses and the official designation of these areas. As such, the Q1 2024 survey should reveal the true impact of these changes.
The purpose of the ISM Code is to provide an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention. Without doubt, seafarers are the first beneficiary of ISM Code and it's objectives;
- ensure safety at sea by preventing human injury or loss of life.
- prevent damage to and pollution of the marine environment
- prevent damage to ship equipment, ship, and the cargo.
While the ISM Code has been implemented by the Companies with varying levels of understanding and interpretation in the industry, seafarers have been raising concerns with it's increased work load, ever since the ISM Code became mandatory from 1998.
Additional paperwork, checklists, mandatory internal and external audits for maintaining Safety Management Certificate, multiple port state control inspections and its never ending paper work, corrective actions and follow up have chnaged seafarers' lives on board.
Then came the 9-11 attack in 2001 and the mandatory implementation of ISPS Code from 2004 with a set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities to deal with similar threats. While I wonder whether it has served the envisaged goals in making port facilities any secure, it has definitely overburdened the seafarers with its endless procedures, paper trail, audits to maintaintain certification and port state control regime who police its implementation on ships, but not of the ports. Seafarers are now faced with uncertainty of returning home with discovery of illegal drugs on board, planted by the hard core criminal gangs who use commercial ships and aircarfts for their drug trade. If ISPS Code was implemented in ports, seafarers could have focused on safe operation of ships and carriage of cargoes from/to the port, while the port authorities and the port state government focused on ensuring the port safe, for seafarers and ships to call and carry out the legitimate operations, without worrying about theft, stowaways, illegal drug trade etc.
9/11 attacks took away the charm of seafaring - the shore leave in ports and the Covid 19 took away the easy access to medical facilities in ports
Communication has transformed and progressed leaps and bounds from the last century. This has dramatically increased the burden of seafarers as all parties expect prompt and rapid responses from ships as they expect from their contacts on shore, forgetting that the primary responsibility of officers on board ships is to ensure safe operation of ships and not responding to endless questionnaires from shore without any respect for seafarers work load or rest hours. Easy to send an e mail to ships rather than looking through the databases on shore for the information. It was good for seafarers in the last century when there was only cables (through morse code) or expensive telexes/satellite calls at US$11 per minute. They are now overconnected for information from ships to shore, but disconnected from shore.
Would highly appreciate the valuable views from readers, thanks.