Keeping seafarers online in coronavirus mental health battle

Internet connectivity is crucial in the battle to look after seafarers, according to industry experts. 

Coronavirus cases are continuing to rise around the world despite the efforts of governments. 

And as we head into winter in Europe, the pandemic is set to remain centre stage on the news agenda.

For maritime industries, the focus once again needs to be on the mental health of seafarers in these challenging circumstances. 

During a webinar last month, panellists from insurer North P&I, ship manager Thome Group, telemedicine provider Future Care and crisis communications firm Navigate Response discussed the state of play and considered practical steps to help. 

Dustin Eno – COO & Crisis Response Manager at Navigate Response – suggested that more can be done to keep stranded seafarers in touch with loved ones. 

“People want to connect online when it’s difficult to connect in person,” he told guests.  

“Social media isn’t entirely good – but we also know that connections help reduce mental stressors. 

“You can always limit internet access to communal areas so seafarers have to mingle rather than isolate in their cabins. 

“Blocking WiFi in sensitive areas like the bridge is of course sensible. And it goes without saying that we encourage the use of social media and the internet strictly during off-duty times only. 

“But those of us who work on shore would not accept going through the pandemic without internet access. 

And we certainly wouldn’t accept our employers limiting access to social media and our ability to connect with friends and family. Seafarers have the right to expect the same.

Shipping attracts a diverse workforce given its global reach. 

However, Dr Arthur Diskin – Global Medical Director at Future Care – warned that some seafarers find it hard to ask for help when things get tough. 

He’s urged organisations to be aware of issues that might be hidden beneath the surface. 

“Cultural and language barriers may prevent the crew from getting much needed support,” Diskin said.  

“This becomes a barrier to early identification [of mental health issues] and can increase suicide risks. 

“Estimates suggest up to 20 per cent of crew members may have contemplated suicide. 

“This needs to be managed proactively at a ship level and corporate level. 

Crew wellness strategies include: sleep, exercise, hydration, diet and availability of medicines for underlying conditions.

Belinda Ward, who is a Claims Director at North P&I Club, said her organisation is doing everything possible to aid struggling seafarers.  

“There is help available if you know where to look for it – and that’s the key,” she explained. 

“North introduced Mind Matters, which is a long term initiative looking at how our members and their crew tackle mental welfare issues. It incorporates and develops different programs, which we hope will provide some additional support. 

“We are constantly reviewing ideas under this initiative and working experts like Dr Diskin to bring new options to the table.”

You can watch the full webinar here

More details on North ‘Mind Matters’ can be found here. The Mind Call team speaks: Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi, Russian, Spanish and Tagalog.

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