Once again, the Day of the Seafarer is celebrated on June 25 this year. An annual and international event day coordinated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Day of the Seafarer aims to increase awareness of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers for their often indirect but substantive contribution to the general public.
Shipping is the lifeblood of the global economy and carries around 90% of world trade. Without shipping, intercontinental trade, the bulk transport of raw materials, and the import/export of affordable food and manufactured goods would simply not be possible, the International Chamber of Shipping notes.
The themes for the Day of the Seafarer are current as well as topical. Themes in recent years include “At Sea for All” which highlights seafarers’ contribution to the transport of goods that benefit the world’s population; “Seafarers’ well-being” which addresses areas of stress and other issues; and “I am on board with gender equality” for this year.
To elucidate on some of the themes, representatives from various shipping fields give their views in this issue.
Reflecting increasing gender diversity amid the focus on safety, Sinanju Tankers’ assistant general manager Celeste Yeong, who sailed as a marine engineer in her formative years almost 12 years back, places utmost importance on crew welfare and says Sinanju puts in effort to observe the Day of the Seafarer every day.
SMA cadet Nurul Fazirah binte Muhamad Wafa reflects on her experiences at sea and on foreign lands while fellow cadet Joshua Jeevan Eliathamby noted that a lot of his work on-board relates to what he studied at SMA.
Rounding up the broad range of views, Capt. Atul Vatsa from Thome Ship Management, Capt. Hari Subramaniam from the Shipowners’ Club, and Capt. Gavin Lim from the Sailors’ Society give their perspectives on current topics such as the focus on the human element in the safety culture and digital access for seafarers.
Having sailed as a marine engineer in my formative years almost 12 years ago, I have observed that “Safety First” is no longer just a slogan but is now ingrained into the company’s culture as the main driving force of the business, to safeguard every staff, crew and contractor, on shore and at sea.
Our crew’s welfare, mental and physical well-being is of utmost importance to us. So it may sound a bit corny but Sinanju puts in effort to observe ‘Day of the Seafarer’ every day.
Our crew carries out bunker deliveries to vessels at very stringent safety standards. To keep them updated on the latest happenings, we carry out monthly safety briefings for joining crew and hold dialogue sessions with the management on each of our 12 bunker tankers. Needless to say, there would be a food feast each time!
The Shipowners’ Club (the “Club”) is embarking on a new more holistic approach by readdressing ‘Human Error’ as ‘Human Element’ in view of the former being perceived negatively as a resurgent blame culture. The concept discusses why the causation of a majority of incidents continue to be attributed to the Human element despite implementation of comprehensive legislation, enhanced training tools and detailed operating procedures.
This underlines the fact that the issue at hand goes beyond simply human error and may be ascribed to the seafarer being distracted whilst on the job. This loss of focus could further be a result of stress, fatigue, isolation or similar reasons which could be mitigated by addressing the mental health and wellbeing of the seafarer.
However, this is not possible without the existence of a proper on-board working culture and hence the Club has been working to promote good ethos with its Risk Assessment campaign. Being a frontrunner in insuring smaller and specialist vessels, the Club appreciates that the ISM code may not be mandatory on such tonnage especially where SOLAS is not applicable and thus encourages operators to implement a safety/risk assessment culture by providing easy-to-read guidance in the form of sample risk assessments based on industry guidelines as well as claims experienced globally.
Along with other Club initiatives on Seafarers’ mental health and well being, It is envisaged that this campaign would go some lengths towards raising safety awareness amongst seafarers and also assist operators in tightening up their procedures. More details can be found on the Club’s website www.shipownersclub.com.
Thome strives to make safety awareness second nature for crew through existing inhouse training programmes which focus on the human element, partnering in success workshops and sharing experiences at conferences.
A crew’s safety culture is only truly ingrained when staff automatically consider the safety implications before they begin a task. To this end, Thome has introduced the concept of specialised “Safety Coaches” who will engage with crew and teach them the importance of taking proper safety precautions.
In addition to the above, conducting regular safety seminars, crew visits to office, a robust inhouse cadet training program to ensure the next generation are fully briefed on Thome’s safety culture and best-in-class industrial safety training for our shore-based staff, enable us to not only maintain but continually enhance our safety culture – one which we, at Thome, can be proud of.
To examine the effect of limited or non-existent digital access on seafarers. international maritime charity Sailors’ Society – which helps seafarers and their families with welfare and practical support – and global mobile satellite company Inmarsat teamed up with researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London.
Published around the first quarter in 2018 and titled “Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea”, the study used an immersive approach on board two container ships for 10 days, one with onboard Wi-Fi capabilities and one without. They looked at how seafarers use mobile phones and other digitally-enabled devices in their daily lives during extended periods at sea, and the opportunities and risks that such usage introduces.
The results revealed the fundamental importance of reliable digital access and the impact it has on mental well-being, operational efficiency and safety, as well as its critical role in attracting new talent to the industry.
Access to Wi-Fi aboard ships – even if limited – helped reduce some of the emotional stresses that come with separation from families, the study showed. But where there were weekly limits to connectivity, seafarers had to ration their allowance to certain periods or to prioritise contact with friends. Restricting usage also meant that domestic issues could not be resolved immediately or in real time, adding to personal stress or anxiety.
The ability to connect with family on a regular basis while away was also understood to ease transition into home life when returning from sea. In particular, being in frequent contact allowed people to keep up to date with everyday mundane events and activities at home, minimising the feeling that they were missing out on important life events.
In addition, one of the report’s key findings was how digital access is becoming a significant factor in recruitment. Its onboard provision, or lack thereof, is seen as a deal breaker for some young people who are deciding whether to commit to a career at sea.
The longstanding perception amongst ship owners is that seafarers’ work and rest patterns will be adversely affected if onboard digital access is provided. This latest research reveals the contrary: It found that if the only method of digitally engaging with kin and friendship networks is through a seafarer’s personal mobile device, seafarers would connect when the ship was within mobile signal range regardless of the time of day, external factors, work or rest hours – behaviour which may compromise safety and productivity.
Supporting the case for better digital access for improved mental health, a Marine Link report on the results of a survey conducted by the International Chambers of Shipping (ICS), the European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA) with support from the Asia Shipowners’ Association (ASA) on 15th May 2019 noted that respondents have reported improved mental health, well-being and morale. It added that companies who are providing onboard internet access have not observed increased work and rest disruption or higher anxiety levels due to problems at home.
The jury is still out on whether too much or too little digital access is a bad thing, but one thing’s for sure; a seafarer must prepare himself/herself, both mentally and physically, when he/she starts a contract.
Working at sea has been a really wonderful eye-opening experience for me. At first I was apprehensive, but after 7 months of training I have gained lots of confidence and experience working on deck. I work with Filipino and Indian crew, and there were initial misunderstandings due to slight nuances in our spoken English. I was able to overcome this as there are common terms which are used internationally by seafarers, which made it a lot easier to communicate while working.
I have sailed through Southeast Asia and then had a 30-day voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Panama, where our vessel transited through the Panama Canal. It was an amazing experience for me and I’m glad to have had the chance to experience it on my first ship. I have been ashore at the beautiful port cities of Cartagena, Colombia and Havana, Cuba and experienced their amazing cuisine. I keep watch with the chief officer from 4 to 8 in the morning and from 6 to 8 in the evening. I really enjoy doing celestial navigation at night, trying to identify constellations and seeing the moon and the sun rise and set on a daily basis.
My first vessel was a 65,000 GT crude oil tanker. She was 250 meters long and I joined in Kwinana, Western Australia. My first few days were indeed exciting, and involved working on deck, meeting new people and keeping bridge watch which was especially memorable. We have very strict procedures here while working on deck and during cargo operations and I feel comfortable because everyone keeps asking me how I’m doing.
I have been ashore in Europe and did a bit of food tasting which I really enjoyed. I find it interesting how many of the things I’m doing on-board relate to what I studied at SMA. I have mostly Indian crew with me and I am happy I am able to communicate well with them.
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