Seafarer job satisfaction hits eight-year low

(LONDON) — The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published Thursday by The Mission to Seafarers, reveals the lowest levels of seafarer satisfaction in the past eight years, with the measure of overall happiness decreasing from 6.41 to 5.85 and levels dropping across all categories.

The survey, undertaken with the support of the Standard Club, reports on the first quarter of 2022 and shows that a turbulent start to the year on many fronts has severely impacted seafarer happiness. From the COVID-19 Omicron variant to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and concerns over contractual issues, seafarers have faced a challenging few months, as morale on board has severely declined.

The continued COVID-19 crisis

Two years on from the outbreak of COVID-19, seafarers are still feeling the effects. New variants of the virus continue to hit different countries, impacting seafarers who face a maze of different regulations, ongoing port restrictions, and in many cases limited or no shore leave. Even when seafarers do get ashore, many facilities are closed due to national restrictions, leaving them without support or basic services.

International conflict impacts crew camaraderie

Seafarers responding to the survey also were impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many were concerned about their families and worried by tensions on board. On some ships, Russian and Ukrainian crewmembers are actively working together to try and ensure that relationships did not suffer, but as the war continues and misinformation spreads, tensions appear to be rising. Crewmembers from a host of nations including Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria expressed concerns about tensions on board, which has implications not only for social cohesion on board but safety too.

Crews concerned by contract issues

The survey highlighted that seafarers continue to face problems surrounding their employment rights, contractual issues and calls to be recognized as key workers. The issue of contract extensions was frequently mentioned when asking seafarers about their general happiness at sea and is impacting the mental health of crews that are effectively being forced to remain on board. Many are desperate to return home, especially as connectivity to speak to loved ones remains a huge challenge for seafarers.

Focus on welfare and well-being

Although the survey raises a wide array of issues that should be the cause of great concern for all shipowners, operators and managers, a number of seafarers also took the opportunity to share examples of steps taken to improve welfare and morale onboard. There was positive feedback from seafarers who spoke about some of the efforts made to make life at sea more comfortable and enjoyable, despite other concerns. This included examples of vessels having funds allocated for well-being events and activities, such as weekly crew gatherings, quizzes, karaoke, sports, TikTok video making, movie nights and barbecues.

“It’s hugely concerning to see seafarer satisfaction decline quite significantly in our latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, though unsurprising,” said Andrew Wright, secretary-general of The Mission to Seafarers. “With the continued threat and disruption of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, seafarers face unprecedented challenges, which are exacerbated by restrictions on shore leave and crew changes.

“We hope that through the rest of 2022, organizations will take further meaningful steps to improve the welfare of crews and help boost seafarer happiness,” he continued. “With financial backing and compassionate leadership, there are still actions that they can be taken to improve seafarers’ quality of life. It is important to listen to and learn from seafarers’ experiences, to not only empathize with them, but work together to find practical solutions that will improve life at sea.”

Capt. Yves Vandenborn, director of loss prevention at the Standard Club, added: “The substantial drop in seafarer happiness should be a wake-up call for the industry – we rely on seafarers every day for so much of what we take for granted – and yet, morale across the board has dropped as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and uncertainty around contracts.

“Seafarers around the world have traditionally worked as a tight and cohesive group, but now this is being severely tested as crews of all nationalities, particularly Russian and Ukrainian crew, face rising tensions on board as they receive little information or actual disinformation about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and contracts are extended with little or no consultation. One clear standout message from the report is the vital importance of providing clear and honest communication to ships at all times.

“The few positive comments from seafarers in this Seafarers Happiness Index should also be emphasized to show the importance of caring for our seafarers and how a small investment can go a long way – it really does make a difference to crew morale and outlook, providing both economic and mental health benefits. With this in mind, Standard Club will continue to work with its members to promote seafarer well-being, enhanced communication and best practice,” Vandenborn said.

To read the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, click here.

– The Mission to Seafarers

By Rich Miller