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2022 was ‘a year of recovery’ for seafarer welfare

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The Mission to Seafarers’ annual review of its Seafarer Happiness Index branded 2022 as a year of recovery for seafarer wellbeing.

The quarterly, survey-based report tracks seafarers’ thoughts and opinions on various parts of their working life, from connectivity to workload, shore leave to training.

Overall Q4 happiness levels improved in the fourth quarter, giving a 7.69 on the index, which is scored out of 10. The authors of the report said the figure reflected a “sustained upward trend” seen through the course of 2022 and improvements across almost all categories.

“The results of the survey show that even the historically most problematic areas, such as shore leave and access to welfare ashore, are recovering. Crew members continued to express their relief at the return of freedom of movement, as well as their increased sense of certainty and stability,” said the report.

The single area reporting a decline in Q4 was connectivity – a factor which has proven crucial in overall seafarer morale during the course of the past two years. Seafarers expressed concerns of quality and cost of connectivity, with a growing expectation that internet access should be free or inexpensive.

Contrary to the belief that increased connectivity can increase crew isolation and reduce cohesion, seafarers claimed that connectivity helps bring crews together, for instance during the World Cup when live matches were watched together by crew members.

“It was also noticeable that a significant number of seafarers appeared to have switched employer or trading patterns to be closer to home in case of travel restrictions. In addition, there was a growing number of responses from seafarers from non-traditional maritime labour markets, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” said the report.

Reviewing the year as a whole, the story of improvement starts from an eight-year low in seafarer happiness in the first quarter, as the ongoing impacts of the pandemic wore on crew morale, including extended contracts and the removal of shore leave and access to shoreside welfare services.

The index hit a low of 5.85 in Q1. Q2’s figure of 7.21 heralded the end of the worst COVID impacts for most seafarers, with more certainty in travel and contract lengths as the world began to reopen.

The full Q4 Seafarer Happiness Report and 2022 Review can be accessed online.

Ben Bailey, Director of Programme at The Mission to Seafarers, said: “We were pleased and relieved to see increased happiness levels onboard throughout the year, and our reports show significant positive progress. While there remain complexities and challenges in the industry, The Mission to Seafarers continues to highlight the importance of fair treatment, reasonable pay, compassion, and understanding in fostering a positive outlook for seafarers.  

“However, there are still complex issues that need to be addressed such as abandonment, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, and arbitrary decisions about immigration. We will continue to work closely with shipping companies and managers ashore to shape positive change and to hear more stories and experiences from seafarers through our surveys. We are also mindful of a potential recruitment and retention crisis in 2023 if the trend of seafarers moving from deep sea to short-sea or inland waterways continues.”