5th July 2017

Continuing decline in the number of reported incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships has been revealed in the second quarter piracy report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB), published yesterday. According to the report, the first half of 2017 saw a total of 87 incidents reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre compared with 97 for the same period of the previous year.

Recording some of the lowest figures seen in the last five-year period, the latest piracy report shows that in the first six-months of 2017, 63 vessels were boarded, 12 fired upon, four were hijacked and attacks were attempted on another eight vessels. A total of 63 crew have been taken hostage so far, this year while 41 have been kidnapped from their vessels, three injured and two killed.

The encouraging downward trend has been marred however by the hijacking of a small Thai product tanker en route from Singapore to Songkhla, Thailand. The hijacking, at the end of June, was conducted by six heavily armed pirates who transferred 1,500 MT of gas oil to another vessel. The incident followed a similar pattern to a series of product tanker hijackings in the region which occurred approximately every two weeks between April 2014 and August 2015.

'To prevent criminal gangs carrying out attacks on other product tankers, the IMB PRC is calling on Malaysian and Indonesian authorities to take robust action, in the same vein as their response which brought perpetrators of the previous spate of attacks to justice', said Mr Mukundan, Director, IMB.

Cooperation between Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines has been recognised as the fundamental reason for the overall decline in the number of reported incidents in and around the Philippines – from nine cases recorded in the first quarter of the year to just four cases in the second quarter.

Overall, the number of mainly low-level attacks off Indonesia has also decreased from 24 in 2016 to 19 in 2017.

Somali pirates remain threat to merchant ships

The hijacking of an Indian dhow in early April was one of five incidents off Somalia reported in the second quarter of 2017. Added to a further three reports of vessels coming under fire and a bulk carrier being boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the incident reveals that Somali pirates still retain the skills and capacity to attack merchant ships far from coastal waters. The piracy report urges ship masters to maintain high levels of vigilance when transiting the high-risk area and to adhere to the latest version of best management practices.

Pirates in Nigeria continue to dominate when it comes to reports of kidnappings. So far, this year they have been responsible for the abduction of 31 crew in five reported incidents. The numbers include 14 crew members taken from two separate vessels in the second quarter of the year.

Violence against crews continues with half of all reports of vessels being fired upon coming from Nigeria.

Recognizing the need to get a clearer understanding of the depth of under reporting in the Gulf of Guinea region the IMB, in association with Oceans Beyond Piracy, has proposed the idea of a ‘Community of Reporting’ – a project aimed at encouraging all stakeholders to share reports of piracy and armed robbery with the IMB.

Piracy and armed robbery

Since 1991 the IMB 24-hour-manned Piracy Reporting Centre, has provided the maritime industry, governments and response agencies with timely and transparent data on piracy and armed robbery incidents – received directly from the vessel masters or owners.

The Centre’s prompt forwarding of reports and liaison with response agencies, its broadcasts to shipping via Inmarsat Safety Net Services and email alerts to CSO’s – all provided cost free – have contributed to response efforts against piracy and armed robbery and to improved security for seafarers worldwide.

IMB strongly urges all shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspected piracy and armed robbery incidents to the Piracy Reporting Centre. This first step in the response chain is vital to ensuring that adequate resources are allocated by authorities to tackle piracy. Transparent statistics from an independent, non-political, international organization can act as a catalyst to achieve this goal.

Follow the @IMB_Piracy via #IMBPiracy

IMB offers the latest piracy reports free of charge. To request a PDF version of the report by email, visit here.

Maritime trade union Nautilus International is calling for a shake-up to the industry to provide good quality, low cost internet access for all.

A survey of nearly 2,000 seafarers and shipping industry leaders by the maritime professionals’ trade union Nautilus International has found that fewer than one in ten (6%) seafarers has sufficient internet connectivity for video calls when at sea, despite often being away from their families for months on end.

By comparison statistics show 91% of UK homes and 85% of European homes1 have broadband access, with the United Nations recently suggesting that access to the internet should be a basic right, rather than a luxury2. The findings emerged from a white paper released last week by Nautilus to mark Seafarers Awareness Week (24th-30th June). The report also found despite nearly 88% of seafarers having some form of internet access at sea, most have very limited speeds and at high costs.

In addition, only 57% of crew have personal email access and just one third have social media access at sea (34%), leaving the majority of seafarers isolated from friends and families. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) also suggested they would consider moving companies if the new company provided better quality internet.

Of the industry leaders surveyed, one in ten admitted they don’t provide their employees with any access to the internet (14%). The two biggest reasons given were fears crews would access illegal or adult content (83%) and the potentially high installation costs (83%). The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents (58%) were concerned the provision would result in a distraction to work.

Nautilus has published the white paper to further raise awareness of the current communications provision for those living and working at sea which it will present to industry leaders, politicians and those working in the industry. The Union is hoping that shipping companies will then act to provide internet access to all which is free at the point of use.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson commented: 'It’s shocking that in this day and age access to the internet at sea is not viewed as a fundamental right. At home we take this for granted and being able to contact anyone in the world at the touch of a button with devices in our pockets is fantastic. But why shouldn’t seafarers also be able to do this?

'We hope this survey will highlight just how poor connectivity is for our members. With very limited and regulated shore leave, increasing workloads, reduced crewing levels and reductions in the quality of social life onboard, it’s essential for the wellbeing of all seafarers that we have free, high-speed internet access. We hope the results of our survey will help to convince shipowners of the benefits of providing internet access and explain how the costs and other counterarguments are outweighed by the positive impact of greater connectivity at sea.'

This survey is part of Nautilus International’s campaign for connectivity at sea. The full report can be found here on the Nautilus website.

Nautilus International is encouraging any seafarer concerned about access at sea to visit here.

ISWAN has produced a self-help guide for seafarers’ mental health to complement its free, 24/7 helpline, SeafarerHelp.

Working away at sea with limited means of communication and little or no shore leave means that it can be difficult for seafarers to access the emotional support they might need.

Forming part of ISWAN’s Seafarers’ Health Information Programme (SHIP) and overseen by Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Pennie Blackburn, the new self-help guide is entitled Steps to Positive Mental Health and intended to be the first in a series of ‘Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers’. It contains skills, exercises and coping strategies to help seafarers deal with their emotions when they are experiencing stress or feeling low, including examples of positive coping statements and guidance on using mindfulness to deal with stressful situations.

The guide also includes contact details for SeafarerHelp, ISWAN’s free and confidential helpline for seafarers in need. As well as dealing with issues such as unpaid wages and abandonment, the SeafarerHelp team is also there to listen and provide emotional support to any seafarer feeling depressed, lonely or unhappy, such as this Indian deck cadet.

Steps to Positive Mental Health will be translated into Filipino, Hindi, Russian, Arabic and Spanish in due course. The English version can be downloaded for free here.

For further information on the guide or ISWAN’s SHIP materials, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We were delighted to interview Ankita Srivastava, a former seafarer of 11 years and India’s first female Chief Engineer who sailed on foreign going ships. Ankita, originally from Lucknow in India, currently works for Teekay in their London office as a Voyage Manager in Commercial Operations. She looks back on her time at sea favourably and offers future seafarers constructive advice about learning from difficult situations.

What inspired you to go to sea?

I had a great desire to do something different. No one I knew had worked in the industry before but I came across Marine Engineering while investigating the field of Engineering. I was immediately interested because I thought it was unique and unheard of – that’s what attracted me to it the most. It sounded so exciting!

What advice would you give a woman about to start life as a seafarer?

I would tell any seafarer, male or female, to embrace life at sea. Enjoy every moment you can. There will be hard times; try to learn from them and move on. If you feel sad, talk about it. If you feel low, share it with others. There needs to be a strong culture within a company that encourages excellent communication at all levels – both on board and ashore. I was lucky to have this working for Chevron, and to sail with seafarers of many different cultures. I had never stepped out of India before joining my first ship, but I soon learned to respect different cultures and views. The more senior I became, the more I tried to help others on board when they struggled. Support on board is vital and if you work for a good company, your crew become like family.

Is there any advice you’d offer women who experience discrimination on board?

Speak up. Companies should have mechanisms in place for seafarers to report discrimination or harassment. It can be very daunting to raise these issues because of concerns you won’t be supported, but if you can’t speak to anyone on the ship, then speak to someone in office. Discrimination of women seafarers will continue until more women challenge it when they experience it. It’s the same on land.

What do you feel was your biggest achievement at sea?

It was probably becoming India’s first female Chief Engineer sailing on foreign going ships. At the time I didn’t see the point of self-promotion or drawing attention to this. I felt so privileged to be doing what I loved that I saw this more as a bonus than achievement. I now feel that it’s good to talk about it to try to inspire other women in the industry to follow their dreams and fulfil their potential.

Were there any other proud moments during your time as a seafarer that you’d like to talk about?

I did receive an award from DG Shipping of India for being the youngest person to pass Class 4 Engineering in 2005. My parents always taught me to be a good person first and take everything – such as this award – as a blessing.

Did you experience any challenges during your training?

I’d say mind-set was difficult. Across 4 year groups during my time at college there were a total of over 350 male students and just 7 female students. That was quite daunting and made me nervous but the training we got in the college prepared us for the life ahead.

What about challenges at sea?

Every day was different and routines were not possible which was also a real positive because it meant it was never boring, but it could still be difficult. You meet a variety of people too, some encouraging, some not so. Whenever I experienced negativity it lit a fire in me to prove myself even more – I always challenged people who would doubt my skills. I would ask 'Think about my work. In what way could a man have done better?' It is still a case today that women have to work that bit harder than men. On the ship they’re constantly under scrutiny. Her every move is known. If a woman sneezes, I assure you the whole crew knows about it. However, the great thing about the word 'seafarer' is that it’s not gendered. It focuses on a profession rather than the gender of the person carrying out the job. It reinforces the fact that anyone – man or woman – can do this job. People have to consider it as another job and not make it a gender biased role.

What do you miss most about life at sea?

Everything, it’s my second home! The sea, the engine room, the smell, the work, dinner time with ship mates! There’s nothing that I don’t miss. After achieving Chief Engineer position I wanted to continue to build on my experience. I wanted to learn and explore the industry and see things from another perspective. Shipping is so vast but there is so little known to people and I wanted to learn more about the industry. I also felt that the industry had given me so much and I wanted to give back. There’s still so much left for me to achieve in the future.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about life as a seafarer?

It’s a challenging job, both physically and mentally, but it’s important to always be yourself and go with your gut. You may not see your family for months on end so it’s vital you connect with your crew on board. Take the first step if you need to and your crew can become like family.

Ankita 2

Roger Harris
Executive Director of ISWAN
26th June 2017

It should go without saying in the maritime industry that 'Seafarers Matter.' We know that without seafarers half of the world would starve while the other half would freeze. Seafarers do matter, but if this is the case, why in 2017 are seafarers still being abandoned, mistreated, kidnapped and held hostage by pirates, bullied and treated as commodities?

So far this year our helpline, SeafarerHelp, has dealt with over 1,500 cases involving 6,000 seafarers. Of course bad treatment does not happen to the majority of seafarers employed by reputable shipping companies, ship managers or crewing agencies, but a large number of seafarers are still being viewed as second or third class citizens.

While the number of extreme cases is relatively small, many seafarers are denied shore leave or find it difficult to get off the ship to access welfare services and facilities. If seafarers really matter, then it should be made easier for them to leave the ship and visit nearby amenities.

There is an increasing awareness in the industry of the pressures of fatigue and isolation that can lead to seafarers experiencing depression and even contemplating suicide. Thankfully many shipowners, unions and welfare organizations are beginning to tackle this problem, but more needs to be done including erasing the stigma of mental illness and recognizing that mental well-being matters just as much as physical wellness.

Different parts of the maritime industry are also coming together to solve difficult welfare cases, such as abandonment, often quietly and behind the scenes. The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 is leading to improvements to seafarers’ lives, but many countries and ports need to do more to ensure seafarers are welcomed and valued rather than just being tolerated when they dock.

Welfare organisations running centres and ship visiting schemes in over 430 ports around the world work to ensure that seafarers do matter and experience a warm welcome. However, many seafarer centres around the world find it difficult to find resources to keep going. They need much more support.

Unfortunately, piracy off of the coast of Somalia has again reared its ugly head. A merchant ship was successfully hijacked in March, although the crew were only held for a few days. If seafarers matter, then shipping companies need to ensure that they abide by BMP4 and keep their ships away from the Somali coast as well as employing armed guard to protect the crew.

Governments must not become complacent and scale down their navies’ anti-piracy patrols.

Support still needs to be given to piracy survivors and their families. ISWAN is working with a range of other partners in continuing to support the 26 crew of the Naham 3 who were released last October after being held by Somali pirates for over four and half years. If seafarers matter, then pirate attacks and hostage taking should not be allowed to happen again.

On the IMO Day of the Seafarer, let us all celebrate the role of seafarers and say a big thank you to them. Without seafarers our everyday lives would be really difficult to live. Let us ensure that seafarers matter not just on June 25 but on every day of the year.

26th June 2017

Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Director Generals, Ambassadors and other government representatives as well as non-governmental organisations and professional individuals from over 50 States around the world, near and far, crowded into the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Friday to honour seafarers in the run up to the annual Day of the Seafarer on 25 June and to mark their commitment to the fair treatment of seafarers.

Organised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), this was the first international workshop to promote the Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident and to discuss guidance on the implementation of those Guidelines.

The international workshop was opened by Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of Seafarers’ Rights International and opening addresses were delivered by Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF, Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the IMO, Corinne Vargha, Director of Labour Standards of the ILO and Jacqueline Smith, Maritime Coordinator of the ITF.

The opening was following by over 30 powerful statements endorsing the fair treatment of seafarers, beginning with statements from the Minister of Justice from the Philippines and the Minister of Ports and Shipping from Sri Lanka. In thanking the ITF for organising the international workshop, some countries offered to host similar workshops in their regions with the assistance of the ITF.

Masters and seafarers and welfare agencies were also present to evidence their deep concern about criminalization of seafarers and to explain the consequences when seafarers are not treated fairly.

In the next session, a distinguished panel of three judges, an emeritus professor of maritime law, a casualty investigator, a prosecutor and an IMO member state lead auditor discussed guidance on implementing the Guidelines on the fair treatment of seafarers into national laws, followed by questions and support from the floor.
Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF said: 'This international workshop is yet another important step in the work that ITF is doing to ensure the fair treatment of seafarers. A survey was carried out in 2012 that showed that 81% of seafarers did not think they had been treated fairly in investigations. That is a situation that I am determined to change for the better. The extremely positive results of this international workshop and overwhelming political support from the leading labour supply countries will be very carefully considered by the ITF. I will ensure that the momentum from this workshop is carried forward by even more initiatives'.

Jacqueline Smith, Maritime Coordinator of the ITF emphasised her commitment to provide an immediate response and practical assistance to seafarers on the ground when they are facing an investigation. She set out her detailed and far reaching vision to bring together all those who can mutually cooperate to ensure the fair treatment of seafarers at a time when they are most vulnerable. She said: 'The ITF wants to encourage cooperation and open dialogue as much as possible. There are no acceptable arguments against the fair treatment of seafarers and we consider it is the moral and legal obligation of all members of the industry to support our work to ensure the fair treatment of seafarers. Seafarers deserve nothing less.'

25th June marks the annual Day of the Seafarer, a celebration designated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to recognise the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society.

SEAFARERS MATTER

This year the theme is ‘Seafarers Matter’, and we thought it was a good time to explore some of the issues which matter to seafarers. At the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), especially through SeafarerHelp and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), we hear firsthand the tales from seafarers.

Working with our members and welfare partners, we know what moves seafarers, what impacts them and the extent to which they have to deal with so many challenges.

So, on this Day of the Seafarer, we wanted to delve a bit further into why seafarers matter. Each year we work to promote this important day in order to appreciate all that seafarers do and so that we can raise the profile of their vital welfare needs and rights. In 2016, we held an event for 2,500 seafarers and their families in Manila, the Philippines, with IMO Secretary-General Mr Kitack Lim as Guest of Honour. This year our London team came together to celebrate with different cultural food, music and decorations in recognition of the diverse nationalities of seafarers working in this global industry. ISWAN’s regional representatives are also involved in local celebrations in Nigeria, India and the Philippines, home to large numbers of the world’s seafarers.

MISSING PIECE OF THE JIGSAW

It’s true that seafarers matter not only on 25th June but every single day of the year, and this theme underpins our work all year round. It is vital that the real lives and experiences of seafarers shape the way we deal with issues at sea. Seafarers are the lifeblood of the industry, so while it is wholly positive to celebrate and recognise the contribution they make, there should be no glossing over the need to ensure their experiences of seafarers are as positive as possible.

Welfare at sea matters, but there are challenges to deliver it. As so many surveys and studies testify, seafarers want to feel positive about their lives, hopes, options and careers.

They want to feel connected, supported, listened to and respected. They want the trappings of modern life, such as connectivity and the internet. They want their time at sea to be as enjoyable as it can be. It is work, yes, but the experience needs to be a positive one.

When things go wrong seafarers want and need somewhere to turn to. When they contact us through SeafarerHelp, they want reassurance and advice. They want to know that someone cares, that someone is listening and that someone can help.

It is not just seafarers, the families and loved ones need support too. A matter which is often overlooked, but is hugely significant. Having happy family at home eases the burden on those at sea. It can be a fraught, frantic time if seafarers are unable to contact, support and help the people left behind at home. So, we need to remember both sides of the seafaring equation – those at home as well as away.

SeafarerHelp is often the first port of call for seafarers and their families when they need help. This day to day contact with seafarers means that our dialogue is about the things which matter, and which affect them. Nothing in a seafarer’s life happens in a vacuum, so every change can have implications to the most fundamental aspects of life at sea.

CARING FOR CREWS

We believe it is vital to maintain an ongoing and positive dialogue with seafarers. Our multilingual team has its finger on the pulse of seafaring, and in talking to crews we understand the range of key issues affecting them.

In recent years we have highlighted the shift of internet usage, and the fact that young seafarers are increasingly led by connectivity. We have helped lead the way in disseminating seafarer views on health, security and wellbeing, as well as fitness and tackling obesity.

From safety to fatigue, career development to abandonments, we hear the problems first hand. The list of challenges goes on, and by providing seafarers with an outlet and a means to talk, then we are giving them relief from the pressures which can build. It is incumbent on us to not fix merely the ills of individuals, we must ensure needs of seafarers are understood and used to find answers within the shipping industry.

We encourage all across shipping to work together, to talk about the things seafarers tell us, and to develop solutions to make life at sea better. While also improving the lives of those who are left behind when seafarers depart for work.

On this day of celebration, let us all think of those on ships. Let’s also commit to continuing to connect seafarers with their ambitions, hopes and dreams. We at ISWAN are proud to be a part of this, and in recognising the unique contribution of seafarers, we salute all who work at sea and thank each and every one of you. To find out more about our work, see seafarerswelfare.org/what-we-do.

DotS Photo banner for article

12th June 2017

SeafarerHelp – a free, confidential helpline for seafarers around the world – can now be contacted using mobile messaging app WhatsApp.

Communication is often the biggest barrier to seafarers seeking help, and ISWAN is keen to offer a wide range of ways in which seafarers of different nationalities can contact SeafarerHelp. WhatsApp is a free, convenient and widely used mobile messaging service, and its use of the phone’s internet connection to send messages and make calls means seafarers can avoid SMS fees and calling charges (although SeafarerHelp will always call seafarers back if they have no internet connection and are only able to phone).

SeafarerHelp can be contacted via WhatsApp on +44 (0)7909 470732. ISWAN aims for this contact method to be available for as many hours as possible, so the SeafarerHelp team will be online on WhatsApp from Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm (UK time). Any messages received outside these hours will be responded to within the monitored times. All other contact methods for SeafarerHelp remain available 24 hours a day.

For more information on SeafarerHelp and details of how to contact our helpline team, please visit the SeafarerHelp website: www.seafarerhelp.org.

When a seafarer and their family are directly involved in sudden and unforeseen circumstances, they may require financial support. In desperate cases where no other help is available, the Seafarers Emergency Fund (SEF) can provide immediate, essential aid. Applications are made on the seafarer’s behalf of by a welfare organisation, and if the criteria are met, the organisation is provided with a grant to help the seafarer and/or their family.

At a health check-up in Singapore, Jessirine – a Cruise Entertainer from the Philippines – was diagnosed with breast cancer and advised to undergo a lumpectomy operation.

After the operation, Jessirine was repatriated to Manila to continue medical treatment. She was referred to AMOSUP Seamen’s Hospital where it was recommended she had an urgent scan to help identify how to proceed with future treatment. Jessirine expected the medical assistance from her manning agent to continue at this stage, but was concerned to find out that she was not covered by the insurance since her medical condition was not work-related.

Jessirine had only finished four months of her last contract and although her husband was working on the same cruise ship, they did not have enough money to cover the medical costs. They were paying rent on their home and school fees for their children. Jessirine was worried that delaying the scan would make her condition worse.

The case was reported to Jun Pablo, ISWAN’s Regional Representative in the Philippines, who submitted a Seafarers Emergency Fund (SEF) application on Jessirine’s behalf to cover her medical costs. The application was approved by three independent advisors to the fund, which was subsequently able to cover the cost of a Protocol Procedure with the Philippine Breast Cancer Network, along with all the necessary supplements Jessirine needed.

Jessirine’s experience of the support offered by ISWAN to seafarers in distress made her proud to work in the maritime industry, and she contacted her colleagues on board to share that ISWAN would assist those in need, whether on board or ashore.

The assistance from the SEF relieved the financial burden on Jessirine’s family, and although the intensive treatment made her weak, Jessirine noticed improvements and hopes to be back at sea after the healing period is over.

Published: 8th June 2017

7th June 2017

Safety at Sea has announced the shortlist for its 2017 Awards, and SeafarerHelp has been shortlisted for ‘Shoreside Team of the Year’.

Safety at Sea has been promoting safe and secure work practices within the commercial shipping industry for 50 years since its launch in 1967. The Safety at Sea Awards recognise those who improve seafarer competence and risk management with innovations and achievements in the fields of training, operations, equipment and services.

Seafarers rely on shoreside support, and the Shoreside Team of the Year category recognises the efforts of the shoreside team whose actions or intervention has gone beyond the call of duty. ISWAN is delighted that the SeafarerHelp team has been shortlisted for this award, as they regularly go above and beyond their call of duty to assist seafarers and their families in distress, responding effectively and appropriately to diverse situations of varying severity. One such example is the team’s immediate response to the hijacking of the Aris 13 on the 13th March 2017 – read more about the case here.

ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp is a team of ten staff members who often have to work antisocial hours and respond to unexpected crises involving individual seafarers or entire crews. The service is free to seafarers and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The multilingual team members do everything they can to assist seafarers whatever their problem, wherever they are in the world. In 2016, the team assisted over 11,000 seafarers experiencing a variety of problems such as unpaid wages or health issues such as extreme stress or depression.

The winners of the Safety at Sea Awards will be announced in London, UK on the 12th September as part of London International Shipping Week 2017. For more information, please visit sasawards.com.