The first International Maritime Human Rights Conference, was recently held in London. The event focused on addressing the issue of seafarers’ human rights and welfare issues at sea. There are good, bad and ugly shipping companies – what do the best do to care for crew?
The aim of the International Maritime Human Rights Conference was to bring together industry, civil society and government-level leaders for discussion and debate on current issues that affect the human element at sea.
Titled: “Respect, Responsibility and Remedy in the Maritime Environment” it was the first time so many agencies had come together to discuss, debate and engage around their respective work, concerns and aspirations – all seeking to make life better at sea.
The strong message was that human rights at sea need to be safeguarded. It was recognised that it may be easier to apply standards on land, but seafarers need the same rights and remedies as those working ashore.
David Hammond, CEO Human Rights at Sea opened by issuing a call to action that there should be: “application of human rights throughout the maritime environment at all times without exception.”
For all the work of so many charities, and welfare organisations, it is perhaps surprising that seafarers do still suffer, facing challenges and threats to health, livelihood and even liberty. Alas sadly they do, such abuses and problems are all too common place.
Being a seafarer is tough, and the realities of working at sea can sometimes be hard to bear. It may not be possible to make life at sea just like it is at home, but it can still be made to feel like a good experience.
While there is the ongoing demands to make sure each ship is safe, efficient, clean, and secure, there is another challenge – that of making it a good place for seafarers to be.
A major challenge is ensuring that seafarers have access to the internet, to information and to entertainment onboard. Crews crave connection, and there is a growing hunger to for connectivity, access to media and to the world beyond the vessel.
KEEPING PEOPLE HAPPY
We increasingly see that access to the internet, to information and training, as well as to social media are key recruitment and retention issues. While the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006) covers areas such as food, health, wages and comfort – there is a growing demand for a form of “Connectivity Convention”.
To be away from home, to be denied shoreleave or to struggle to find information and news – to feel disconnected. This is an issue which is causing misery, but which can easily be remedied.
It is clear that seafarer job satisfaction, connectivity and access to news, media and entertainment are intrinsically and inescapably linked. Seafarers want better access, they want it to be faster, more reliable and cheaper too.
It remains a source of frustration and irritation amongst seafarers who are denied the communication they crave. The best progressive and enlightened employers are providing seafarers with internet access, and they are reaping the rewards.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Shipping needs to be able to bridge the gap by being considerate, by empathising and understanding what seafarers want. There needs to be a leap of imagination and of questioning what people expect of their place of work, and of the time when they are not working.
Seafarer job satisfaction rests on a balancing act between the challenges of work and personal issues. The issue of internet access and connectivity are amongst the most prevalent and emotive affecting seafarers today.
People who work on ships want to feel good, and they want the tools to feel contented in their role. For employers, this means making and keeping people happy. Empathy is key, and managers ashore need to ask themselves what would they like to have, and making sure the staff at sea have that.
According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) there is an anticipated shortfall of some 40,000 seafarers in the coming decade. That means that even at current rates of recruitment, shipping is failing to address the challenge of industry wide recruitment. Without listening to what seafarers and potential future seafarers want, then year-on-year the projected shortfall will grow. The problem is not going away.
NOT JUST FUN
Connected seafarers and ships is not just about likes and posts on Facebook, pictures of food on Instagram, or selfies on the Bridge. There is a serious, productive and useful side too, as people increasingly access information online.
That is a fact – and we cannot hide or shy away from it. This is something that will increase as the seafarer age demographic changes. We cannot cut young seafarers’ off from the tools they need to thrive in their careers. Today’s students rely on online information – that is how they learn. To deny that is to turn our backs on the ways of the modern world.
Connecting seafarers is the right thing, and it shows the company cares – and brings dignity and happiness to crews. As World Maritime Day recently reminded us, shipping is indispensable to global trade, and it is important to remember that seafarers are equally crucial to shipping.
Until the autonomous ships of the future arrive, we need to find a way of rewarding, recognising and supporting seafarers. There can be the knitted hats, and striped socks which show support, but as more and more fleets and vessels are connected, those which aren’t fall ever further behind. If shipowners are going to gamble with their crewing needs – they need to do so, not by a flip of a coin, but instead they need to flick the switch on connectivity.