Shipping is the drive-engine of any economy. “If shipping stops 90% of the world will be frozen and rest would starve to death.” One can only try and understand the gigantic efforts that the seafarers put to facilitate world trade. The COVID 19 pandemic brings unprecedented effects. As the economies suffer, shipping too is now navigating through uncharted waters. One such example is One of the worst slowdowns faced by the cruise industry.
As the nationwide lockdown continues, the seafarers are facing the biggest uncertainties of their lives. While Many have had their contracts extended indefinitely with shore leaves being cancelled, many other seafarers are waiting at home with anxious thoughts about their joining and whether their job will remain or not in these turbulent times. Many seafarer friends on board have had their new-born delivered, some may have lost their near and dear ones and some may have had their loved ones being exposed to corona. Missed anniversaries, birthdays, weddings are not even counted.
Despite of IMO’s efforts and constant talks with UN urging them to declare seafarers as keyworkers, a little seems to have been done for them in real time. While Relief travels are being facilitated for stranded citizens, Government and media all around the world have turned a blind eye to the seafarers. These brave Covid warriors are fighting alone without enough support or recognition. Global economies want the commercial benefits that shipping brings but seafarers’ welfare doesn’t meet the same fate. Anxiety and depression during these times is running at an all time high on board, reducing one’s ability to take correct decisions resulting in poor judgments and errors. Poor concentration, disinterest in work, unable to sleep, irritability without provocation, loss of appetite are some symptoms.
As a master these are few insights that may help my seafarer friends on board.
REASSURE, REAFFIRM & REACHOUT: the 3R that the ship board management can use to help the crew on board. They must constantly REASSURE and talk positively to the crew. share regular updates with the crew members. REAFFIRM to them about how their sign offs are only delayed not denied and how they will be safely at home with their loved ones soon. These positive reaffirmations often provide a lot of support. REACHOUT to crew members anxious during this time. A one on one discussion may go a long way.
Avoid non essential work in these times. If possible, avoid engaging a limited crew in work which is not directly affecting the safety of crew and performance of the vessel. Subjected to the vessel routine extending the tea break by as little as 15 minutes and the lunch break by half an hour can boost the morale of the crew.
Owners can provide extra internet data bundles at port or sea to further facilitate communication of the seafarers with their families. Simple Acknowledgement emails from the industry to the seafarers or to their families addressing their efforts may help bring solace to them.
Frequent get-togethers with special dinners on board can help reduce anxiety amongst the crew members. They can share their worries amongst each other talk to each other.
Arrange for simple recreational activities on board such as table tennis tournaments, carom board games and darts. This can help engage their minds and distract them from the constant worries.
Simple presentations to be made on current updates of corona virus and Correct and relevant information dispelling the myths, can be presented during daily meetings.
Master with the company can arrange for a mental health helpline. Telemedicine is the future of medicine and seafarers can benefit the most in the current times. Essential supplies related to safety of the vessel, and the crew must not be compromised. Lockdown restrictions should not hinder their availability. Food and other supplies for the daily use of the crew must be ordered in abundance. These simple yet effective tips can help you sail through these turbulent times.
My prayers and good wishes with all my seafarer friends. Remember THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
About the Author
Captain Tarun Kumar started his merchant navy career with GEARBULK-Norway on their fleet of general cargo –Handymax/panama vessels in year 2004 as cadet until 2015 as a chief officer. Working with Gearbulkhe has sailed on gantry crane and jib crane vessels carrying unitized project and bulk cargoes. He has been actively involved in dry docks and yard delivery of vessel during his engagement with Gearbulk-Norway A/S. He joined Teekay shipping one of the pioneer company in shipping industry to sail as chief officer on their fleet as cape size bulk carriers and then to take command as master mariner with them on their cape sized vessels. He is presently sailing with Anglo-eastern ship management Hong Kong Saga fleet and settled in Delhi.