“Connecting Ships, Ports and People” has been selected as the World Maritime Day theme for 2017 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council. Something which could perhaps bring into focus the needs of seafarers to be heard.
ON THE MARGINS
There are few harder jobs in the world that those out at sea, the life of seafarers is a rough and tough one. KVH Media Group recently attended a fundraising reception hosted by the seafarers’ charity, The Apostleship of the Sea UK. Speaking at the event, their National Director Martin Foley said that seafarers are to be found at the “margins of society”.
Painting a sad picture of what it means to be disaffected and disconnected, it was stated that it is up to us all, in the industry and those who are aware and care, to bring them in.
It seems incredibly troubling that the people who work so hard and do so much to make our modern society what it is today, are the very ones held at the margins of it. This just doesn’t seem right.
Seafarers are removed, isolated and are being left behind – and it seems that more needs to be done to support them, and to recognise and respond to the widening gulf between those ashore and those working at sea.
VIEW FROM SHORE
The concept of society means different things in different places and to different people. But in this sense it means all of us who benefit from shipping – who consume food, goods, and take advantage from the global market.
Seafarers are being removed from the very society they have created. As the world ashore becomes more linked and integrated with connections growing like never before, some crews are being left behind.
Wherever crews hail from connectivity is growing, and the majority come from Indian and Philippines – and the rate of internet usage is booming in both. According to industry data, by 2017 India will have 500 million internet users, and The Philippines has the fastest growing internet population in the world, experiencing 531 percent growth in the last five years.
The friends, family and loved ones of seafarers are increasingly likely to be online and connected. Most new seafarers consider it second nature to be online – and so by denying them, or by making it too expensive to connect – seafarers are indeed being pushed into the margins.
A SERIOUS ISSUE
Some old school views on seafaring still prevail – and there are sadly companies who still see the issue of connectivity as a nice to have, rather than a vital aspect of seafarers’ lives.
While the role of social media at sea is one which can be debated long and loud, it does help to counter some of the most pressing concerns at sea – that of loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness is very bad for both body and soul. According to experts, loneliness is as bad for health as smoking and moderate alcohol abuse. Rather incredibly, according to the Royal Society of Arts, loneliness has twice the impact of obesity in causing premature death!
This is not then about a nice to have, or fancy ideas of rewarding seafarers – it is about heading off and mitigating the risks of a deadly issue at sea. These facts need to prompt a rethink into what should be done for people who feel alone, isolated, and disconnected.
ONLY THE LONELY
Loneliness can only be remedied through action, but what does that mean for seafarers? The issue of loneliness at sea is one which has been prevalent in our very own Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index.
The crews we have spoken to have stressed the issue, it is a concern that they are constantly and consistently raising. So we know there is a problem, but what can be done about it?
It is not easy – it seems that shipping must create a new vision and commitment to combating loneliness. Indeed, seafarers themselves should have a key say in how technology is to be used, and of how they are encouraged to interact in order to battle isolation.
There is criticism of the trend for seafarers to retreat into their own cabins when off duty – thereby further eroding social interaction. This is perhaps inevitable if people are tired, stressed or if there is little reason to remain in the company of others.
How, then, can seafarers rebuild social lives onboard, develop shipboard communities, while also beginning to feel closer to society? How can we bring them in from the margins?
Well it is far from easy or straightforward. Some of it rests of technology and some on psychology. Seafarers need to have the same tools, and the same support as those ashore.
The technology exists, but without giving it to crews, then there is a danger of simply paying lip service to how seafarers are valued as people, or how important they are to society. Being at sea should no longer be a barrier to engagement.
While action is required to tackle a rising tide of loneliness, and perhaps a psychological boost can come in the form of “community champions”. People within companies and on vessels who are trained and resourced to help others, and who are able to work to ensure all are connected and feel part of the team.
The idea of someone onboard responsible for happiness alas seems far-fetched. For years the trend has been to cut the number of crew onboard – and that was seen as progressive. It was, of course, expected that technology would take up the slack, and so less people were needed.
Perhaps it is true, new onboard systems and equipment may have reduced the reliance on large crew numbers. However, to simply take away from one side of the equation shows a distinct lack of understanding of mathematics and people.
The law of unintended consequences has also seemingly come into play. The focus was so much on reducing costs and the need for people, that there seems to be have been a blind spot to the effect of decimating the culture and community at sea.
It seems that a new approach must be found – one that makes seafarers feel valued and connected to those ashore, and it is to be hoped that will in turn make them feel less isolated and lonely while they are away.