Press Release

The Crew Welfare Week took place virtually from 22 to 25 June 2021, focusing on the vital role that seafarers play for a safer and sustainable shipping as well as the whole trade and economy and highlighting ways to improve their crew welfare considering that the pandemic has added new challenges in their work and daily life onboard.

 

Crew Welfare is on the top of the agenda of several industry stakeholders with calls from the Industry by the Neptune Declaration on “Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change” supported by more than 750 organisations of all types across the industry setting aside the regulatory requirement in many standards (ILO MLC, TMSA, DryBMS).

The event was organized by SAFETY4SEA having as lead sponsors the following organizations: MacGregor, The Standard Club and SQE MARINE. The event was also sponsored by: Alandia, The American Club, Blue Planet Shipping, Capital-Executive Ship Management Corp., Capital Gas Ship Management Corp., Capital Ship Management Corp., China LNG Shipping (International) Co., Ltd (CLSICO) , CR Ocean Engineering LLC, Dorian LPG, Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Limited (EASTMED), Elvictor Group, ERMA FIRST, Gard Club, Green Jakobsen, LATSCO Shipping Limitied, London P&I Club, MarineTraffic, MedAsssist.online, North of England P&I Club, Prime Marine, RISK4SEA, SHIP MED CARE, Sun Enterprises Ltd, Telematic Medical Applications Ltd (TMA), The Swedish Club, Tsakos Group of Companies, UK P&I Club, WALLEM and World Link Communications

Supporters of the event were: Alassia, Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), Inc. ECSA, INTERCARGO, ISWAN, Sailors’ Society, Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), The Bahamas Maritime Authority and The Mission to Seafarers.

DAY 1 – Tuesday 22 June

Opening the event, Mr. Apostolos Belokas explained that this unique industry initiative aims to bring together many of the stakeholders to discuss a number of topical issues concerning seafarers who are facing unprecedented circumstances due to the pandemic, embrace the role of the seafarers in shipping and focus on seafarers’ wellness, well-being and prosperity or in other words their welfare. This should be industry’s top priority, Mr. Belokas highlighted and expressed his gratitude to all seafarers who move the world.

A video message from IMO Secretary-General followed on the importance of 2021 Day of the Seafarer and IMO campaign calling for a fair future for seafarers. ‘’Seafarers have always been at the heart of the world trade. Their work touches the lives of each and every one of us, whether it is the food on our tables, the medicine that keep us healthy, the computer we are using for wok and leisure, or the vehicles that transport us in our daily lives. All these items are primarily transported by sea. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic created challenging working conditions, including difficulties with port access, repatriation, crew changes and more. Despite all difficulties, seafarers have gone beyond the call of duty, working tirelessly to keep global trade flowing. IMO and our partners are doing our part to support seafarers and make sure that they are given the rights and protections of key workers.’’ Mr. Kitack Lim said in his message. Considering that crew change crisis is far from being resolved, IMO Secretary General highlighted that we all must keep seafarers in our hearts and continue to take actions that will return seafaring to normal practices for crew changes.

In a key note speech, Vassilios Demetriades, Shipping Deputy Minister to the President, Republic of Cyprus, highlighted that it is now opportunity to make seafarers, the ‘unsung heroes’, visible across the globe and explained how Cyprus continues to push for safe crew changes and maintain momentum with seafarer vaccinations. Cyprus was one of the first countries worldwide that recognized seafarers as key workers and implemented a formal crew change process. These measures resulted in over 14,000 seafarers being repatriated or able to return to work since May 2020. He also noted that collaboration is the key for the shipping industry which faces momentous changes, navigating the pandemic, the energy transition and constantly evolving regulations and decarbonization targets. In this regard, the entire sector is important to become adaptable and enable resilience now and later. Previously, in an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA, Mr Demetriades had explained that Cyprus is currently calling for a mapping exercise to identify the number of vaccines required for seafarers ashore at seafarer supplying countries.

 

Ship Managers Panel

Currently, hundreds of thousands of seafarers from across the globe have been left stranded working aboard ships beyond the expiry of their initial contracts due to COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, the Neptune Declaration, signed in early 2021, calls for increased collaboration between charterers and ship operators based on the notion that managing crew changes is a shared responsibility.

The event was followed with the Ship Managers Panel moderated by Dorothea Ioannou, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, The American Club. The participants of the panel – Stamatis Bourboulis, General Manager, Euronav Ship Management (Hellas) Ltd; Andy Cook, Global Crew Operations Director, V.Group; Dimitris Fafalios, Managing Director, Fafalios Shipping; Boriana Farrar, Vice President – Chief Legal Officer, Patriot Contract Services, LLC; Capt. Faouzi Fradi, Group Crewing and Training Director, Columbia Shipmanagement Ltd; Basil Sakellis, Managing Director, Alassia NewShips Management, Inc , discussed the challenges and opportunities of the pandemic crisis for the crew welfare and suggested actions for the implementation of Neptune Declaration to move crew welfare to the next level.

‘’From our point of view, it became clear the complete ignorance of the world with regards to seafarers’ vital contribution to the world and the global economy.’’ noted Mr. Basil Sakellis. From a seafarers perspective, Mr. Andy Cook said that there is plenty of uncertainty around. Continuing, Mrs Boriana Farrar mentioned that challenges remain due to differences between the international regime and the different national regimes at port stays. ‘’The biggest challenge from our perspective is the lack of uniformity in regulatory regime; this is an opportunity to spread the message across in order regulators to address this issue.’’ Mrs Farrar said. Then, Mr. Dimitris Fafalios noticed that the uncertainty for the people onboard is equally difficult for the people ashore who are expecting to join ships and support their families. ‘’Equally important to me, was the denial of access to shore for crew medical issues, this is unacceptable. This is an infringement of basic human rights, we don’t see to be able to overcome this yet.’’ he highlighted. Mr. Stamatis Bourboulis agreed that uncertainty is one of the most serious challenges while Mr Bourboulis noticed that nobody was prepared for a pandemic; not only on company level but also on government level. Furthermore, Capt. Faouzi agreed that this crisis increased a lot of pressure and revealed that crew welfare is a must.

 

Wellness and Health monitoring Panel

According to UN SDG Goal 3, for sustainable development, it is imperative to ensure health and well-being across all ages, and is achievable only through effective and continuous healthcare monitoring. Monitoring can help corporate wellness programs by measuring levels of stress, sleep, and recovery over an extended period of time in order to properly assess well-being.

In this panel, Gisa Paredes, Chief Operating Officer, WellΑtSea presented Cases from The WellAtSea Platform and discussed the key ingredients to creating a Sustainable Crew Wellness Program. Ms Paredes explored how organizational culture can change the promotion of health onboard ships and presented cases in which output showed that when wellness programs become part of the culture, personal ownership and promotion of health behavior continues. Namely, a pilot program, launched in September 2020, revealed that the engagement rates moved from 25% to as much as 57% when vessel captains were given guidance to identify their ambassadors on board and engage regularly. As a result, it was noticed enhanced mental health and stress management, leadership skills, bonding and team work as well as increased self- awareness. Another case revealed that Corporate Social Responsibility programs prove to be quite effective when coupled with gamification techniques and health activities, reaching as much as 75% engagement across the fleet.

Continuing, Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, Standard Club suggested ways for monitoring health onboard. Firstly, Capt. Vandenborn highlighted the importance of PEME examination and the implementation of thorough medical examination for seafarers before joining ships both for their own benefit but also ship operators’ who could extend the cover of the medical test and contact with their clubs for loyalties and enhanced schemes. Also, he highlighted the importance of providing a healthy lifestyle onboard including both physical and social activities. For example, seafarers should receive training with regards to physical lifestyle to understand why it is important to maintain it onboard. On the other hand, ship operators should provide healthy food choices and activities along with incentives to enhance participation because mental and social well-being are equally important for seafarers and should not be forgotten.

 

Physical Wellness Panel

The first thing is to learn to love and respect our body. If we are not happy in our body, we are not going to be happy persons; however, people tend to forget that physical wellness is related to mental wellness. Subsequently for life onboard, this mean that unhappy crew can become risk to the safety of the ship.

In this panel, moderated by Dimitrios Lyrakos, CEO, Filistos ASCOT SA, Elisabeth Calbari, Founder, Self Balance; Christian Ioannou, Managing Director, MCTC Marine Ltd; Capt. Konstantinos G. Karavasilis, Senior Loss Prevention Executive, UK P&I Club and; Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director Loss Prevention, Standard Club shared perspectives on how to ensure the people onboard are provided with services that support their physical wellness and a healthy lifestyle.

All experts agreed that there is a connection between brain and body and especially during this challenging time, many negative emotions may prevail. As such, it is important crew onboard to maintain a healthy physical lifestyle in order to be able to control and balance their brains and emotions. In general , seafarers neglect their physical wellness for various reasons, for example there are no facilities or because they now need to follow protocols and get isolated in their cabins and keep social distancing, it is difficult to think about their physical wellness. However, it is equally important and they need to understand this as well as to receive training on the issue. One of the biggest challenge for people onboard is to get up from bed and dedicate time to exercise and focus on their nutrition. Operators need to be innovative and implement pioneering ways to foster a healthy lifestyle, considering also that the majority of the workforce are millennials who are used to other new approaches and have different requirements.

 

Crew Abandonment Panel

Many are the cases of seafarers’ abandonment. Abandonment can mean seafarers are left on board a ship that is not being properly maintained and therefore creates an unsafe working environment without the necessary supplies to live. The financial implications to seafarers of being abandoned are usually serious, both for them and their dependents. Where abandoned seafarers do assert their legal rights, fear of not being paid at all can induce them to agree to settle for less wages than they may be contractually entitled to. Recently, the Humans Rights At Sea, in partnership with ReedSmith, issued a report providing guidance to seafarers on how to respond in such cases and where to get help.

In the event, Chirag Bahri, Director of Regions (India), ISWAN referred to recent cases of crew abandonment. According to ILO database; with 85 reported cases of abandonment, 2020 saw a significant increase in cases, owing primarily to COVID-19 restrictions. A similar pattern is expected to continue in 2021, as more than 28 cases have been reported by the end of April. Often left without pay and essential supplies, the abandoned seafarers go through a difficult ordeal. In a recent case in which the seafarer was abandoned for 33 months in a UAE port, the crew narrated that ‘’we were on the mercy of passing by vessels and other agencies for edibles, potable water and temporary provision of electricity’’. Finally, he informed how ISWAN may help, reminding that SeafarerHelp confidential and multilingual helpline is available to report any case of harassment or abuse at sea.

Rachel Bellsham-Revell, Associate Director, London P&I Club referred to the causes of abandonment, i.e. shipowners financial difficulties, economics (more common on older ships at the end of their lives), port restrictions and quarantine rules due to COVID-19 and tackled the issue from the P&I perspective. As explained, ship owners must have compulsory insurance to assist crew members in case of abandonment. In 2014, MLC was extended to provide extra protection for serving crew members and those provisions came into force in Jan 2017. Also, financial security certificates must be provided confirming security is in place for repatriation of abandoned crew and for up to four months outstanding salary and separately compensation for illness or injury.

 

Mental Wellness Panel

Mentally well people are positive, self-assured and happy. They are in control of their thoughts, emotions and behaviour. This enables them to handle challenges, build strong relationships and enjoy life. For seafarers, a focus on their mental wellness is vital especially now that the pandemic has made their work and life onboard extremely challenging.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Chris Haughton, Managing Director, Haughton Maritime and included discussions of the following participants; Dr. Pennie Blackburn, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, ISWAN; Christopher L. Hall, Managing Director, Hong Kong, The American Club; Dimitra Ilia, Office Administration Manager, The Swedish Club; Dimitrios Lyrakos, CEO, Filistos ASCOT SA; Johanna Kull, Loss Prevention Executive, Alandia and ; Sophia Onken, Clinical Psychologist & Partner, Mental Health Support Solutions.

Experts noted that fear, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, isolation have let negative feelings to prevail affecting mental health onboard. Even before the pandemic, there was an alarming percentage of seafarers with depression and those with suicidal thoughts. The pandemic has exacerbated uncertainty leading to loss of control, aggressive emotions and anxiety. What is more, the flow of information can negatively affect seafarers in the middle of the ocean will not react with logic in bad news. As such, internet is a good tool but also can become dangerous and therefore operators should try to deal with fake news and educate seafarers where to search for valuable information. If we add fatigue to all these, depression is a logical consequence. The solution is to work together as an industry. There are plenty of tools to train the crew, campaigns and many initiatives underway. We need role models and people with human skills and leaders to support crew members. It is important to ask for feedback from crew members in order to have a picture of life onboard. Also, crew members should feel safe to convey to ship operators any problem they may have. Above all, it is important to erase the stigma around and learn to everyone the importance of mental health and how can affect people onboard.

 

Health Monitoring Programs

In case any health issues arise onboard, it is vital the crew to seek for advice from health and safety specialists and a health monitoring programs can help both seafarers and ship operators to have control of the health status onboard. The purpose of health monitoring is to identify how work and life at sea is impacting seafarer’s health and especially, in these challenging times, it is proved to be more important than ever.

In this regard, a panel of medical experts gave advice on how to plan and implement a health monitoring program for seafarers effectively. Namely, Dr. Remko Huigen, Director Strategy and Business Development, MedAssist.online ; Sebastian Nause-Blueml, Co-Founder & Head of Sales, Scoutbase; Dr. Philip Sotiriades, President & CEO, Telematic Medical Applications Ltd (TMA) and; Periclis Tzardis, Chief Medical Officer, ShipMedCare talked about the benefits of monitoring health onboard and presented cases and alarming trends.

 

DAY 2 – Wednesday 23 June

Crew Resilience Panel

Ordinarily, life at sea might be viewed as containing too much certainty, with the working environment being overwhelmed with many rules and regulations governing what seafarers can and cannot do. In contrast to their working environment, seafarers’ personal lives, particularly in the current situation, are likely to be associated with too little certainty. The coronavirus has made it very hard to plan and enact crew exchanges, leading to seafarers experiencing a lack of predictability and control over when they will be home, or, when they will be earning.

In this panel, Elisabeth Calbari, Founder, Self Balance; Kostas Katsoulieris, Senior Executive, North P&I Club; Ariadna Mayoral, Founder, Sea Wellbeing; and Dr. William H. Moore, Global Loss Prevention Director – S.V.P., The American Club presented ways to foster resilience onboard and enhance seafarers’ wellness.

Elisabeth Calbari presented ways of developing soft skills for resilient crews. Considering that we process more than 50k thoughts per day, our brain influences our behaviour and interaction. All emotions and skills pass through the brain, she explained thus success starts with an optimized brain to control our emotions. The way our bodies react affects how others perceive us and also our brain chemistry (dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) that influences our behaviour. So it is important to retain balance in our brain chemistry. According to studies, 25% of accidents involve communication failures, 49% seafarers are more productive when working with a trustworthy officers and when crew staff trust the officer, have more energy. A vessel represents a small community with a captain being the leader. They all represent the culture which should have trust and clarity. Leaders needs to lead by example, recognize others feelings and give constructive feedback. The also have the duty to find and increase seafarers’ capabilities towards resilience, she concluded.

Kostas Katsoulieris focused on how fatigue affects the mental health of crew. He firstly referred to fatigue common signs: poor judgement or decision making; lack of ability to problem solve; reduced reduction time; poor hand-eye coordination; and behavioural or physical changes. Citing the example of Exxon Valdez, he stressed that fatigue can have dangerous implications on safety at sea. Ways to deal with fatigue onboard include among others: ensure that work/rest schedule strictly comply with iLO/MLC/STCW regulations; schedule drills and training to minimize disturbance or rest periods; be aware of the time when the times when the body naturally suffers dips in alertness, eat regular and well balanced meals and keep fit. Also, avoid single- handed watches in hours of darkness, keep BWAS, dead-man alarms etc switched on and avoid sitting on bridge chairs when on watch.

Ariadna Mayoral focused on the importance of providing personalized support to promote positive healthy ships. Adapting to the new normal is a necessity for the industry; well-being onboard has become a priority as figures show that seafarers are exposed to increased stress, having also suicidal thoughts and mental health problems. What is more, with modern technology and automation, crew numbers are decreasing and this may result in isolation and loneliness. On the other hand, social media can also reduce the sense of community onboard vessels and there is the danger of fake news. There are four factors affecting seafarers’ performance and wellbeing; psychological and emotional factors; factors related to health, physique and well-being, stressors typical of the maritime environment and stressors typical to working on a ship. Stress and fatigue are among the most common risk factors for life onboard, she noted and referred to the benefits of promoting healthy ships; for example they have improved working conditions and communication and can decrease potential of negative impact on the environment and the sea.

William Moore presented a holistic approach to seafarer wellness. There are significant challenges to being a seafarer, particularly due to the current pandemic. As such, the Club is devoted to various loss prevention initiatives to advise members on risk control to ensure seafarers are as fully mentally and physically fit to ensure enhance safety onboard. Ship operators need to focus on ways of preventing fatigue and promote good habits and routines for sleep hygiene. What is more, cyber wellness is becoming a key issue; seafarers are happier to be cyber connected to their families, friends and the world at large-scale but there are many dangerous; as such cyber awareness is vital to promote best practices as part to enhance mental wellness. He also referred to the importance of PEME which focus primarily on ensuring seafarers’ physical health prior to deployment, ensuring that seafarers are aware of medical conditions that affect their health while at sea.

 

Industry Panel

The continuing inability of ship operators to conduct crew changes due to COVID-19 pandemic affects seafarers’ welfare in many aspects. In this context, industry stakeholders have raised their voice in order seafarers to be acknowledged as key workers and progress on prioritizing the COVID-19 vaccination of seafarers.

Moderated by Carleen Lyden Walker, Co-Founder/Executive Director of NAMEPA and IMO Goodwill Maritime Ambassador, a diverse and interesting panel discussed about crew welfare challenges for industry stakeholders. Participants of this panel were: Sara Baade, CEO, Sailors’ Society; Gerardo A. Borromeo, VP & CEO, PTC Holdings Corporation; Jillian Carson-Jackson, President, The Nautical Institute; Martin Dorsman, Secretary General, European Community Shipowners Association (ECSA); David Hammond, CEO, Human Rights at Sea; Tom Jenkins, Deputy Director, Investigations Department, The Bahamas Maritime Authority; Paul Markides, Marine-Quality Manager, Intercargo and; Capt. M. Segar, Assistant Chief Executive (Operations), MPA Singapore.

Sailors’ Society is a global maritime welfare charity, offering ‘Wellness at Sea’ coaching programme which empowers seafarers to look after their own well-being, featuring related application. Mrs Sara Baade explained that they are concerned with those seafarers at sea who are exposed to fatigue, but also with those ashore who cannot join ships and have increased anxiety and uncertainty.

‘’The challenge goes back on how we had planned our business continuity for all activities; no one could ever predict such a global breakdown that disrupted the trade.’’ said Gerardo A. Borromeo and suggested that the pandemic learned us that we need to consider thinking beyond our resources, including also the inter relation among countries in case of emergency.

Continuing, Mrs Jillian Carson-Jackson noted that the ongoing lockdowns and the inability to travel and connect have been among the key challenges. The Nautical Institute is the global body for maritime professionals; back in 2016, one of the first to focus on mental health; in collaboration with HRAS, The NI issued report for managing and improving seafarer mental welfare with focus on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

‘’At a European level, the pandemic showed that we need to harmonize policy measures’’ highlighted Mr. Martin Dorsman, Sec-Gen of ECSA which is continuously raising its voice to resolve the crew change crisis soonest possible.

In turn, Tom Jenkins who is also the head of a recent BMA welfare survey to address the mental health needs of seafarers due to the pandemic, referred that repatriation remains a key challenge. ‘’From our perspective, we try to assess the actual crisis with reliable support; we need to consider all challenges of the pre, the during and the post pandemic crisis, to identify what needs to change for the future’’ he said.

‘’Since the pandemic, for the first time the words human rights and humanitarian crisis were heard in the maritime industry, so there is a blessing in disguise.’’ noticed David Hammond.

Furthermore, Capt Sigar referred to Singapore best practices. ‘’We are happy that many initiatives are coming onboard. We continue vaccination and we work with companies on prioritizing vaccination for seafarers”.

 

Seafarer Health Panel

Unhealthy lifestyle and work-related diseases are the main health related difficulties of seamen. Thus, it is of utmost importance seafarers themselves to keep a balance between work and rest hours and operators to address all risk factors associated with health problems, emergencies and diseases while onboard, as well as to secure urgent medical evacuation and access to medical care for seafarers.

In this panel, moderated by Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director Loss Prevention, Standard Club, experts shared their perspectives on ensuring that people onboard have a healthy lifestyle and balance in their lives. Participants were: Dr. Walther Boon, Managing Director, MedAssist.online; Kostas Katsoulieris, Senior Executive, North P&I Club; Dr. Claire Pekcan, Director, Safe Marine; Dr. Philip Sotiriades, President & CEO, Telematic Medical Applications Ltd (TMA) and; Periclis Tzardis, Chief Medical Officer, ShipMedCare.

Experts of the seafarer health panel discussed about the key issues affecting seafarers health in general, i.e. quality of sleep, fatigue, medical health of seafarer, drink and alcohol policies of life onboard. Seafarers’ health has been an issue long before the pandemic; maybe it is a blessing in disguise, now that the pandemic brought it into the spotlight, experts agreed and referred to challenges faced due to the pandemic. In general, managing a case of COVID-19 onboard was very challenging; that showcased that here is need of strict implementation of vaccination protocols worldwide and special medical equipment and services. The good news is that awareness is raised, industry can use the momentum to improve towards seafarers’ medical issues. It is important all operators to consider seafarers as key factors of their productivity and as holistic human beings and provide them with modern technologies and services to enhance their social well-being along with their physical and mental. A manning crisis had been already there before COVID-19. There is need for a holistic approach across all industry stakeholders; lets not put fingers on ship owners only, they suggested.

 

Mental Health Challenges Panel

In times of high stress, many people are overwhelmed with negative feelings and concerns. Especially for seafarers, worrying situations may result in high pressure due to the demanding nature of their work onboard. What is more, separation from family, loneliness, lack of shore leave, fear of criminalization and the simple stress of everyday workload are only a few of the challenging factors for seafarers’ mental health, and even more in times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this panel, Chirag Bahri, Director of Regions (India), ISWAN presented the piracy effect on wellness and Johan Smith, Project Manager, Sailors’ Society referred to vaccine challenges.

Chirag Bahri provided a quick update on the rise and fall of Somali piracy and referred to the situation in the Gulf of Guinea where it is observed highly aggressive cargo theft and kidnappings. As explained, ISWAN offers humanitarian support to seafarers and their families in cases of armed robbery and piracy attack. Before incidents, seafarers need training and briefing, knowledge and assurance of their safety. Psychological sessions are also important to seafarers and their families which are provided with professional counselling support by ISWAN during and post release.

Johan Smith talked about an industry wide awareness campaign inviting industry stakeholder to talk about mental health and address the issue and also referred to ‘WellnessAtSea’ program by Sailor’s Society and its benefits. The COVID-19 became a catalyst for mental health. For the future, more pressure will come outside the industry due to technological innovation in healthcare and impact of research. Also, a central database recording seafarers’ mortalities and regulation will eventually come into place to enforce all organizations to invest in well-being solutions.

 

Soft Skills Panel

Across all industries, the importance of soft skills is acknowledged and even their predominance over technical skills. Experiences and technical skills of course remain important but what is the point if the seafarer has not developed situational awareness, decision making, leadership, teamwork and communication?

The panel, moderated by Dr. Luiza Shahbazyan, Founder, The Pivot Company, focused on the benefits of investing in soft skills development. The following experts participated: Ben Bailey, Director of Advocacy and Regional Engagement, The Mission to Seafarers; Dimitris Fokas, Training Manager, Angelicoussis Shipping Group Limited; Capt. Dimitris Kalosakas, Group Training Director/Senior Instructor, Elvictor Group; Panagiotis Kourkoumelis, Training and Development Manager, Kyklades Maritime Corporation; Capt. VS Parani, HSSEQ Manager, Tufton Asset Management Ltd and; Bill Truelove, Managing Director, CSMART Training Center.

We are moving in the right direction towards soft skills but we have a lot of work to do, panel experts agreed. Seafarers have recognized the need to adapt to the demanding working environment onboard which requires to collaborate with multinational groups; this is a great challenge to them so they tend to show more concern about effective communication, teamwork, collaboration and other soft skills. Also, psychological safety, continuous learning and resilience are among the key soft skills to focus on. In general, there is a demand for a new types of skills. Therefore we need to refresh the soft skills that are already in place; this part of the culture journey. Especially the pandemic highlighted the importance of resilience for both crew onboard and their families. In order to address any gaps with regards to soft skills, there is need of an analysis on a company level as there is not a solution that fits to all. Also, a gap exists in seafarers’ families training , if we are able to train them better and equip them with strategies and mechanisms, seafarers will have better focus on their works. What is more, the positive thinking came to surface; seafarers could now believe that the best things are going to happen, they are not victims, but they have everyone’s support.

 

Challenges of Social Life Onboard

According to a recent study by ISWAN, regular social interaction on board benefits physical and mental health, happiness and motivation, helps build relationships, teams and trust, improves work safety, and reduces isolation and stress. The research confirmed that social life onboard matters and is of high importance.

Accordingly, experts of this panel – Connie S. Gehrt, Managing Director, CONOVAH; Hans Hederström, Professor of the Practice, Dep. of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology; Capt. Konstantinos G. Karavasilis, Senior Loss Prevention Executive, UK P&I Club and Johanna Kull, Loss Prevention Executive, Alandia – Managing Anxiety and Depression reaffirmed the importance of investing in social life and discussed ways to provide a quality approach, addressing important areas of attention.

Connie S. Gehrt highlighted that social relations are important to everyone and defined what it means to feel lonely. Of course, the need for connection varies to different people while it was noticed that due to the pandemic most of us felt quite lonely because we lost activities and contacts with friends. In general, we don’t have to be alone to feel lonely and when it comes to vessel, the interaction sometime may be poor; not listening to others, poor communication, lack of understanding can leave everyone onboard with feeling of loneliness. As such, social interactions matters and it is a common responsibility. Namely, connecting adds to well-being; in this context one should ask and explore similarities and differences; listen with genuine interest; be inviting and show that you care helping other also helps you; take initiatives and support those that do.

Hans Hederström focused on psychological safety which is defined as a climate in order to people feel safe and open to express their ideas and thoughts. There are four stages of psychological safety: inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety and challenger safety. To create inclusion safety and trust, leaders should walk around vessel on a regular basis and meet the crew while working. They should listen to people and give praise for work well done. Contributor safety has the objective of developing a specific skill or knowledge. Instructional coaching is not telling people what to do but helping them to discover what to do, so ask questions. Also, a leader needs to remind to people that their work is complex and has a potential of errors, invite input and embrace messages to make it a positive experience for everyone to speak up and share feedback. Overall, psychological safety is needed to establish safety culture as well as for enhancing crew welfare.

Capt. Konstantinos G. Karavasilis provided general data with regards to suicide; according to WHO, 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. This is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 years olds. While 75% of global suicides are reported in low and middle income countries. There are many stressors that can lead to suicidal behaviour such as conflict, disaster, violence and sense of isolation. When it comes to sea, 83% of suicides/ possible suicides have occurred by drowning at sea or port. Top stressors are considered as: low safe manning levels, lack of communal eating and recreation activities, technology and social media, faster turn- around and reduced shore leave, language barriers, COVID-19, crew change and vaccination issues. As such, it is important to raise self-awareness of their own mental health, spot the signs in others, target mental illness, improve living conditions and provide access to assistance.

Johanna Kull mentioned that according to studies, depression, anxiety and depression levels at sea are high. In particular, depression and anxiety are the most common mental health disorders but hopefully there is so much science today that supports mental health pressure. Depression and anxiety are treatable and preventable; however there is still a stigma around and not many people feel confident to talk about their situation. In order to prevent those conditions, it is vital to talk about it and give supportive tools. For instance, operators should to provide related online courses to everyone at sea in order to learn about mental health, emotional well-being, nutritrion, physical health and all factors affecting their health. Overall, it is everyone ‘s responsibility to ensure that each crew member feels socially included both at work and in their free time. We all of us have a responsibility to take the initiative to make a positive contribution to the workplace.

 

DAY 3 – Thursday 24 June

Women at Sea Panel

As industry is continuing its efforts to change the perception which suggest that shipping is too technical for women and women will not manage to succeed in a male dominated field, we now see more women serving onboard ships. However, there is still a large gender gap and on board the ships, the recruitment and the retention of female seafarers remains an area which needs much improvement. Furthermore, industry needs to think what changes are required in order ship to become a friendly environment for women as well.

In this panel, moderated by Johanna Kull, Loss Prevention Executive, Alandia, participants – Capt. Ayse Asli Basak, Co-Founder, SheFarers Platform; Capt. Jeanine Drummond, Managing Director & Principal Marine Advisor, Integral Maritime ; Capt. Alexandra Hagerty, United States Naval Ships; Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Founder, Maritime SheEO; Jenny Matthews, Founder, She of the Sea; Kathryn Neilson, Director, Merchant Navy Training Board, UK Chamber of Shipping shared their perspectives on how the maritime industry to become more attractive for women.

Currently, the numbers are low; less than 2% of the total seafarers are women. All female experts of this panel agreed that increasing women participation within industry is vital; this will bring another era to the industry and if we observe other sectors, we can only see benefits from their diversity actions. Among many, women can bring to the table high intelligence and consciousness skills, they can inspire and make a difference in the process of transforming the industry. However, when it comes to seafaring, there is a stereotype. High female participation can help towards and change these stereotypes which usually are being followed by high risk of discrimination and harassment. As such, industry needs to remove any barriers and focus on education at early stage. Putting a male and female seafarer together can make a huge difference but it is important to promote female roles at early age and inform about the benefits and exciting career paths that a life onboard has. Overall, a real gender inclusion comes when organizations put women in management/ leadership roles; as such organizations need to embrace best practices. For example, job descriptions need update as well as corporate policies with regards to harassment/ bullying. There is a need for equal opportunities and networks can help towards. However, we also need to bring men to the journey to highlight that they have the same challenges, panelists highlighted.

 

Crew Change Challenges

Nikos D. Marmatsouris, Group Senior Marketing Manager, GAC Shipping SA provided an overview of the Crew Change situation and highlighted other challenges due to the pandemic for shipping, such as there is no international standard for regulations, health officials/ authorities do not fully understand how shipping works, there is huge bureaucracy and regulations change every day. The lack of international flights has make it difficult to impossible to resolve the crew change crisis, he highlighted. Although various maritime organizations are trying to assist seafarers by pleading to governments to consider them as ‘key workers’; most countries in the Middle East and Far East make it difficult, especially now with the Indian variant. With crew staying onboard for extended periods, new initiatives have been introduced for seafarers’ mental well-being, he noted and referred to few of them.

 

Crew Change Panel

The unresolved crew change crisis remains a hot topic of discussion, with many seafarers remaining stranded on seas. The difficulties surrounding repatriation and crew changes have a major impact on crew welfare and the whole industry expresses its concern about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers around the world, urging all countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”. As of May 20th, IMO has received 60 notifications from IMO Member States and Associate Members that they have designated seafarers as key workers.

The panel was moderated by Kostas Katsoulieris, Senior Executive, North P&I Club and included the following participants: Constantinos Galanakis, CEO, Elvictor Group; Nikos D. Marmatsouris, Group Senior Marketing Manager, GAC Shipping SA; Georgios Moniodis, Crew & Training Manager, Prime Marine; George Pitaoulis, Crewing Manager, ABC Maritime; Christos Sialakoumas, Crew Manager, Dorian LPG and; Nikos Toumazatos, Crew Manager, Latsco Marine Management Inc.

Experts of this panel referred to the many challenges that the pandemic has brought. Shipping industry had been struggling with manning crisis as there was inability to recruit and retain people, with mental health and fatigue even before COVID-19. The pandemic made the situation worse and now on the one hand, we face global restrictions and on the other, challenging regulatory updates. There are also heightened risks of fatigue and maritime accidents, denial of access to medical facilities and overall, due to crew change crisis, seafarers remain stuck onboard for many months. A big problem is that people outside the industry may not be able to realize what this means. As such, along with challenges the pandemic also brought opportunities for harmonization of procedures, focus on seafarers’ important role and designate them as key workers, collaboration among different stakeholders and across different sectors, embracing digitalization. Unfortunately, uncertainty prevails – some ports are open while others not, there are green lanes but countries such as China prohibit crew change – all these are making the situation even more difficult for the seafarers, extending the crew change crisis. Also, the experts provided feedback on their relationship with charterers which was challenged significantly during the pandemic; everyone faced difficulties as they had to cope with unexpected medical issues, but the pandemic taught us some very valuable lessons to move forward, such as: shipping is a global industry and we need to think out of the box in order to face any emergencies; shipping is evolving, thus we need to improvise and keep pushing to make noise and communicate issues.

 

Crew Vaccinations Panel

Efforts to provide COVID-19 vaccinations for seafarers are continuing to accelerate. Most recently, during IMO MSC 103, a resolution on recommended action to prioritize COVID-19 vaccination of seafarers was adopted with a view to consider exempting seafarers from any national policies requiring proof of vaccination during travels, and develop plans, to provide the necessary infrastructure and facilities. Until today, few are those operators who have managed to vaccinate their entire crew, while the unions continue to call for efforts to make the vaccines more widely available.

The panel was moderated by Maria Mavroudi, Founding Partner, Searock Marine Insurance Brokers and included the following participants: Iris Baguilat, President, Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), Inc.; Rick Beaumont, Senior Claims Executive, Standard Club; Capt. Pradeep Chawla, Managing Director, QHSE and Training, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management; Capt. Vishal Kumar, Nautical Manager, INTERTANKO and; Ioanna Vernardou, DPA / CSO, Blue Planet Shipping Ltd.

The panelists shared their experience with crew vaccination and disruptions faced due to restrictions. As explained, vaccination onboard required procedures and risk assessment and a single dose vaccine was highly preferable, as a ship operator said. In general, the lack of protocols and the uncertainty of how much is the quarantine across the countries bring extra challenges. Despite efforts and declarations signed, Flags and Port States need to take action as there are still restrictions. Vaccine passports and certificates will help seafarers’ free movement; currently, EU has introduced and implemented such certificates for the EU countries but a global approach is required to resolve the situation which has become quite complex; in that regard, experts urged for prompt harmonization and collaboration among different stakeholders. Once again, the challenging relationship between operators and charterers was discussed.

 

DAY 4 – Friday 25 June (Day of the Seafarer) – Crew Welfare Best Practices

In the fourth day of the event, which coincided with the Day of the Seafarer, a variety of perspectives were heard from ship managers, crew managers and seafarers. Reflecting on the criticism about the ineffectiveness of the industry to provide for crew change and vaccination, June 25th is seafarers’ international day when we all express our gratitude to seafarers for the crucial role they play for our industry and the global trade in general!

All participants of the event raised their voice to thank our seafarers for their extraordinary efforts to keep the world moving during such difficult times! On the occasion, SAFETY4SEA published a special column asking feedback from many industry stakeholders on crew welfare. For the closure of the event, a video gave voice to ocean going seafarers who shared their thoughts on Crew Welfare from first hand experience. Namely, they discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their life, what needs to be changed for their well-being onboard a ship, what should be industry’s key priorities with respect to crew well-being to move forward.

Also, the following ship operators presented initiatives and actions of their organizations showcasing that crew welfare is a top priority: Dimitris Fokas, Training manager, Angelicoussis Shipping Group Limited; Simon Frank, Chief Human Resources Officer, Thome Group; Ralph Juhl, Executive Vice President, Technical, HAFNIA; Maria Kalogianni, Training Coordinator, Prime Marine; Sunil Kapoor, Director, Fleet Management Limited; Capt. Michail Malliaros, Fleet Personnel Manager, Euronav Ship Management (Hellas) Ltd.; Stamatis Papagiannopoulos, HSQE Superintendent, Springfield Shipping Co Panama SA; Eirini Pirpili, Wellness/Gym Manager, Angelicoussis Shipping Group Limited; Dr. Theoharis I. Sinifakoulis, Fleet Medical Advisor, Angelicoussis Shipping Group Limited; and Aristonis Trochanis, Soft Skills Expert, Angelicoussis Shipping Group Limited.

Similarly, the following crew managers presented actions in favour of seafarers’ health and safety: Iris Baguilat, President, Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), Inc.; Capt. Dimitris Kalosakas, Group Training Director/Senior Instructor, Elvictor Group; Alexandros Ntoutsoulis, Quality Manager, Elvictor Group; and Alfonso A. Jr. Pablo, Head, People, Family & Community Relations Jr., Magsaysay Maritime Corporation.