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More mental ill-health and suicides on board have been reported in the last few months. Several international research projects are currently underway to identify the effects of the pandemic among seafarers.

As early as the spring there were indications of worsening mental health among seafarers as a result of the pandemic. Country after country closed their borders and there are many crewmembers at sea that still do not know when they can go home or even when they will get paid next. The normal nine-month shipboard limit in the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) has been extended in several flag states – in Panama it is now up to 17 months. An international study was started in July with researchers from Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom, to identify the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic among seamen. Michelle Grech, from the University of Queensland, is one of the researchers.

“A survey we carried out last year among seafarers on foreign ships showed that many experienced fatigue and felt under pressure and stressed, and it has probably not got any better with COVID,” she says. “We also noted that the number of suicides among seafarers on foreign ships entering Australian waters increased during the pandemic.”

Overall picture
The researchers are now trying to get an overall picture of how the COVID crisis is affecting those who work on board. They hope to get some answers from a web survey of a large number of seamen in international shipping. At the time of writing around 300 seafarers on ships around the world have responded to the questionnaire.

“Our questions are only about how COVID-19 affects work and life on board,” says Birgit Pauksztat, researcher at the University of Uppsala. “What the atmosphere is like on board, how it feels and whether the pandemic has affected the work environment and well-being.”

The study focuses only on those who are currently at sea.

“Yes, this time we only want responses from those who are actually on board,” says Birgit Pauksztat. “We are aware that this will mean certain restrictions because internet access varies from one ship to another, but we hope that as many as possible will answer the questionnaire. On the other hand, we would very much like to see responses from those deeply affected by the pandemic and those less affected or possibly even not at all.”

Since the survey started, the research group has discovered other research projects currently focused on COVID-19 and shipping, including a British study looking at how the pandemic affects family life, financial situations and careers of onboard employees. Lloyds Register is carrying out a study on how the pandemic is being dealt with by employees of different companies at sea and on shore. Birgit Pauksztat says that they are planning to make a joint presentation of results from the different research projects later in the autumn.

“Our projects complement each other fairly well, even if there are certain areas that overlap. We hope to be able to make a joint presentation sometime in the beginning of November.”

Linda Sundgren

Take part in the survey
Do you work in international shipping and are you at sea at the moment? In which case you can log in to webropol.com/s/survey-seafarers-during-pandemic and answer the questionnaire on how the pandemic affects life on board. The questionnaire will only take about 20 minutes and is open until 15 September.

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