Imagine that you’re working on a ship, ten to twelve hours a day, seven days a week, month after month. You have been on board for well over a year and you still don’t know when you can go back home again. At the same time you worry about your family, which has to make it alone in a society that is more or less locked down. Because of poor communications, you hardly know whether your loved ones are in good health. Most people would probably describe these as completely inhumane working conditions, but in fact this is exactly what thousands of seafarers around the world are experiencing at the moment. According to information on the International Maritime Organization’s website, about 400,000 seafarers around the world are still unable to leave their ships and go home. The Maritime Labor Convention actually states a maximum of eleven months on board, which in itself is a very long period when considering the stress at work and the distance from home that seafarers have to live with. Since the pandemic broke out though, the work periods on board have been successively lengthened and according to the IMO, there are some who have not come off their ships for as long as 17 months.
For each seafarer who is unable to sign off, there is a seafarer ashore somewhere who cannot start work on board, who cannot work as planned and who may well be without any income. In view of these facts, it is not so surprising that there is a steady stream of reports of mental illness among seafarers since the pandemic broke out. Many are finding the situation increasingly difficult and the number of suicides among seafarers is increasing.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the ECSA (European Community Shipowners’ Association) are just a few of the organizations that have been pushing for a solution to the predicament that thousands of seafarers find themselves in. But despite the large number of people affected and the fact that shipping, trade and transport affects all of us, they have not managed to solve the problems.”
Linda Sundgren/editor in chief, San-nytt