Of the respondents, 44% answered “strongly disagree”, “disagree” and “somewhat disagree” regarding their companies answering staff’s questions quickly and fully. One respondent said that too little feedback was given to crew on the crew change situation. Such as polymerase chain reaction tests not being accepted by certain authorities, reported by industry stakeholders (not a survey result).
Forty-two percent answered “strongly disagree”, “disagree” and “somewhat disagree” as to whether they felt that their employers were effective in communicating the reasons behind COVID-19-related actions.
Seafarers said in the survey that they would like to understand the logic behind decisions being made. One crew member stated that their company stopped responding to emails – and said their interpretation is they are “emotionally stranded at sea as well as literally”.
Another noted that their company had lowered the amount of Internet bandwidth being provided to crew on board, which would limit their ability to communicate with the company and loved ones.
Most worryingly, other respondents alleged that stranded seafarers have attempted suicide due to their employers’ haphazard or illogical communication policies.
LR's senior principal human factors consultant, Jo Stokes, said that companies should communicate with crew more frequently and enhance their communications to explain why decisions are being made and how it will affect crew, as well as what support there is for crew to access.
Stokes said: “There are many things a company can do. It’s not necessarily about the amount of communications coming from the company, although this should be regular (and possibly scheduled). It’s more about the quality of the communications. It’s important that the company takes time to explain why decisions are being made and what these are based on.”
“This does not have to be an in-depth explanation, but it does need to enable seafarers to feel they are being treated fairly, and their welfare has been considered. Also, that the logic behind the decision is well thought out for everyone's benefit. The company needs to bring employees with them on the journey (whatever that may be) not make the employee feel that it is being done to them.”
“It’s important that those in charge are affective communicators. Soft skills training for those responsible for communicating key messages could be implemented. This would include information on communication techniques and human psychology to understand the importance of message transmission and receipt and providing timely and accurate communication” Stokes concluded.
During a recent webinar, Yves Vandenborn, director of loss prevention at Standard P&I Club, said that having better communications is crucial in allaying seafarers’ concerns and helping their emotional well-being.
Vandenborn said, “It is the role of ship managers and owners to ensure they are open with seafarers and let them know what is happening, how the situation will affect their sign off, and what shoreside is doing to give them comfort during the pandemic.”
International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) has received calls from seafarers who said that they do not trust their employers because of a perceived lack of open communication.
Inmarsat is now offering crew access to ISWAN’s 24-hour multilingual helpline, SeafarerHelp, and live chat function via the company’s Wi-Fi portal, Fleet Hotspot, as well as continuing to offer free voice phone calls to the service. It also continues to provide satellite phones to chaplains in ports where seafarers are stranded and have no access to the Internet.
ISWAN’s Executive Director, Roger Harris, said: “SeafarerHelp has been extremely busy over the last three months as crew face the impact of being stranded onboard and the loss of employment. Offering free access to SeafarerHelp on Fleet Hotspot will make it easier for crew on board these vessels to access support and assistance wherever they are in the world, day or night.”