Date: Monday, January 31, 2022
Source: Lloyd's List
SHIPPING has been told it is “sleepwalking to a manning crisis” after an annual survey warned of a looming seafarer recruitment and retention crisis unless steps are taken to allow more shore time and improve conditions on board ships.
The stark assessment was made by Standard P&I club’s loss prevention director Yves Vandenborn following publication of the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report.
“Resentment is brewing among this critical workforce due to the lack of shore leave, uncertainty of trip duration, draconian coronavirus testing and general lack of recognition,” said Capt Vandenborn.
The index is compiled on a quarterly basis by the Mission to Seafarers, with the support of the Standard club and the shipmanager Wallem Group. It is based on thousands of anonymised responses to 10 key questions.
While the headlines focus on the pandemic’s yo-yo impact — by which relaxation of restrictions improves levels of happiness followed by the tightening of coronavirus measures depressing happiness — on an overall fourth quarter of the year average lower than the previous quarter, this survey reveals some long-term concerns.
According to the commentary, “there is a growing feeling of frustration at sea and uncertainty surrounding trip duration”.
Many survey respondents said lack of shore leave and concerns returning to work once they are home, have combined to create a growing sense of anger.
These issues have made seafaring a less attractive career option. Frustration over lack of recognition as key workers, combined with rising tension on board are creating “a potentially toxic atmosphere, one which is very likely to have long-term implications for recruitment and retention”.
“Regardless of whether seafarers are ‘happy’ with the micro view of their jobs,” the commentary says, “there is definite anger about the macro employment environment, and that resentment is growing.
“Until seafarers feel certainty about their freedom of movement, until they feel they have the same access to vaccination as the wider populace, and until they feel accepted and recognised as key workers, then there is a seafaring storm brewing. Seafarers are clear in their message that these issues need to be addressed.”
Survey respondents warn that, although connectivity issues have seen signs of progress and a rise in sentiment, there remains a clear divide between ships that provide free of cost-effective access compared with those that do not.
Seafarers increasingly check what access to connectivity they will have before accepting new contracts. This is a trend that is only likely to grow.
Similarly, mariners fear that shore leave restrictions that were tightened during the pandemic will not be swiftly relaxed as the virus abates.
“Seafarers are unlikely to view shore leave as a normal part of their working life,” the commentary said. “That is a shame, but it is also a significant tipping point in the evolution of seafaring culture.”
While a significant selling point of the merchant navy was the opportunity it offered to see the world, “that is no longer the case, and it does not seem it will ever be again”.
Other concerns included the erosion of wage levels, the quality of food on board, fitness and mental health, and training. For the last of these, some respondents said safety drills and exercises had become a chore.
“It seems no one is interested, and we go through the motions,” one said. Another added: “We log and show we have done many things for safety training; the truth is not always the same.”
However, the commentary notes: “It is also perhaps a sad reflection of the reality of seafarers spending too long at sea. There is apathy creeping in, even about standards and safety. Careful and considered management is needed to make seafarers engage with safety once more.”
While the survey is not all bad news, the annual overview makes stark reading.
“All the signs of a depressed, stressed, fed-up, and frustrated workforce were evidenced in the responses,” it says. “Across several years in compiling this data, there has never felt such a sense of deep and entrenched despair and anger growing.”
It says shipping must “keep pressing hard for the diplomatic, legal and external actions which will bring longer-term positives. There has been a sense of disconnection, being sick of meals, fed up with the gym, tired of the same company and missing the physical intimacy which so many ashore may so often take for granted.
“We all believe that seafarers are key workers and essential, but we need to start treating them so. There is a sense that patience at sea is running out if we do not. Without leave and certainty about crew changes, seafarers have spoken of not wanting to come back to sea.
“We are seemingly at a tipping point, one that could spiral out of control if remedial actions are not taken.”