Autumn 2006, my first official task as ombudsman of the Swedish Ship Officers’ Association. I am standing outside Sjösjukan in Kalmar and waiting for the first-year students on the ship officers programme. After 30 years at sea, I expect that I will be able to answer most questions, so I feel calm and relaxed. Once I am on the stage in front of 80 students, the questions come thick and fast:
“Is there broadband onboard? Is it directly connected to a server, or you have Wi-Fi? Does it cost anything?”
I couldn’t answer a single question.
Today, about 90% of Swedes have internet access and most are connected via broadband. Having access to everything is seen as a human right and the younger generation is constantly connected via computers and smart phones to Facebook, MSN, Twitter and Skype. It is a way of socializing and keeping in touch with loved ones.
Broadband highly valued
The problem is that not all ships have connections in the cabins. Certainly, internet is installed, but often only on computers on the bridge and in offices. Studies have shown that free broadband internet is currently the most highly valued facility among seafarers. Shiptalk Recruitment Ltd has concluded that high wages and the internet are what primarily motivate seamen to stay in the profession. Without any doubt, internet is something that shipping companies should use to attract future manpower and ensure growth in the profession.
Ferries are usually already connected. Wallenius Marine were pioneers with free broadband in deep sea shipping. It is precisely in that type of trade that internet is so very important – to be isolated for weeks at a time from friends and family is simply not reasonable. I think this is a work environment problem.
“Send a letter home? From Maracaibo? Are you kidding? The letter will probably not arrive before you’re back home, whatever the rotation system!”