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Crew members stranded on board ships face mental, physical problems

SHIPMANAGERS are providing extra activities such as games and competitions or even barbecues to boost the morale of crew stuck on board ships during the coronavirus pandemic

Crew members stranded on board ships face mental, physical problems
03 May 2020 - 19:00 - Update: 04 May 2020 - 12:41

SHIPMANAGERS are providing extra activities such as games and competitions or even barbecues to boost the morale of crew stuck on board ships during the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes amid mounting industry concerns that crew members overdue for relief are becoming mentally and physically fatigued while under psychological pressure to safely execute their shipboard responsibilities.

Most shipmanagers have allowed free calls home for crew by improving broadband connectivity and offering them access to helplines for counselling and advice, as well as access to round-the-clock medical staff.

Besides keeping active with some form of exercise, the crew welfare charity Iswan has also recommended quiet time, for prayer and meditation, inviting seafarers to draw on strengths. Limiting news consumption was also encouraged in the face of the invisible threat.

Singapore-based Thome Group, which provides full technical management to 200 ships, has some 5,500 crew at sea at the moment, 11 per cent of which are now on overdue contracts. This will increase to 18 per cent by the end of May.

Chief executive Olav Nortun told UK's Lloyd's List that extended time on board will be a challenge.

'Fatigue risk is definitely there,' he said, and the company is carrying out regular health checks and running drills so that crews are able to manage the situation.

'To keep the crew occupied and take their minds off the crisis, we've arranged a different kind of weekly activity with rewards at the end of it, such as photo competitions, best effort in maintaining Covid-19 preparedness, or best workout session,' the executive said.

'It's all about engagement, reaching out to them.'

For now, a positive takeaway is that port delays and fewer inspections actually lessens the stresses faced by the crew, he noted.

V Group's director for health and safety Matt Dunlop, in a recent BIMCO webinar, said that crews understand the situation and are coping, although that could change in a few weeks' time, if the contracts are extended further.

'Prolonged periods at sea significantly increases mental well-being issues of seafarers and jeopardises the safety of the vessels they sail on,' he said. The company manages 600 ships.

'Governments need to adopt policies to allow movements of seafarers,' he said, adding that progress is being made for an industry repatriation alliance, although it is just a concept at this stage.

Human Rights at Sea, a UK-based charity, said it has been receiving feedback from seafarers, with at least nine crew members overdue for relief who are fatigued, both mentally and physically.

The common threads of concern besides mental exhaustion and safety on board, focuses around fears about being stranded, unable to get home to support their families, according to the statement. Depression may be setting in for some.

One seafarer, who was not identified, said that he had been on board for six months already, two months beyond his usual contract term.

Despite calls by the shipping industry to designate seafarers as key workers, exempt from travel restrictions during this global health crisis, no decision has yet been taken and there is no clear and consistent approach. Even within a country, rules differ from state to state, posing immense challenges for logistics operations.

Discussions regarding repatriation are ongoing, said a spokesperson at the International Maritime Organization. Its secretary-general Kitack Lim recently issued a statement in which he said the inability to resupply or repatriate crews concerned him greatly.

The IMO has appealed to governments to take a pragmatic approach.


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