Fatigue is a topic which causes much discussion amongst seafarers and the shipping industry. Ask how crews feel about it on social media and there will be many comments explaining exactly how it is.


When seafarers talk to ISWAN about fatigue, there is a definite pattern to the responses. They talk of how the stresses, strains, rhythm and patterns of life and workload at sea all take their toll.

They talk about irregular hours, paperwork, demands of their job and the fact that sleep can often be broken and fitful. Yes, mention the word fatigue and a very worrying pattern emerges.

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Fatigue is not some vague concept to be confused with feeling a bit tired. It is a recognised and serious medical concern, and while it can go by different names the effects are often the same, and they are serious and debilitating.

The problem can be called tiredness, exhaustion, lethargy and listlessness. What remains clear is that these all relate to the physical and/or mental state of being tired and weak.


Although physical and mental fatigue are different, the two often exist together. It may seem obvious, but if a person is physically exhausted for long enough, they will also be mentally tired.

Fatigue is a serious problem, and despite changes to working time directives and conventions such as the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), there is no sign of the issue going away. The fact, as we have seen in comments on our SeafarerHelp Facebook page, remains a very real one.

The problem needs to be given the respect it deserves and the cause underlying the symptoms needs to be addressed. The possible causes of fatigue are virtually endless. It seems that tiredness is a potent way for the body and mind to try to get the message that something is wrong through to even the most stubborn or determined person.

Seafarers will often try to work through the demands of life at sea; they are stoic, determined and results-focused. That can bring its own problems. People experiencing stress and demanding physical or mental work and those without sufficient rest will become fatigued. Shipping companies and seafarers must find the route to balancing work, rest and recreation.

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Fatigue is a symptom, a sign that something is going on which is damaging the physical and mental wellbeing of the sufferer. At sea, this is likely to be overwork and lack of sleep, and is often worsened by loneliness, isolation and perhaps even depression.

There are many different causes – but for a seafarer perhaps the most common include:

Sleep problems: Shift patterns at sea can cause problems sleeping – even the normal 4 on, 8 off. However, this can be heightened dramatically if work demands increase. The 6 on, 6 off is particularly hard for people to cope with.

Throw cargo watches, port calls or mooring stations into the mix and sleep patterns can become extremely confused and messed up. There can also be weather issues – if a ship is bouncing around, this can make it hard to sleep. Life at sea can be exhausting.

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Mental health: Some stress can be good, but when it passes over a tipping point and stress levels become excessive, they can easily cause fatigue. Stress and worry are two emotions that commonly cause tiredness.

Stress can mean people are unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which leads them towards despair. Despair is draining and will eventually cause fatigue if it is present for long enough. Not being in control over a situation can be frustrating, annoying and very tiring.

Being away from home, working hard, having to deal with difficult situations, the dangers of the sea and of potential uncertainty over when seafarers may get home – all these can cause fatigue.

Disease and Illness: There are many medical reasons that seafarers may become fatigued. With an ageing work force and with concerns over health at sea, there can be issues such as kidney and liver disease, electrolyte problems, diabetes, hypothyroidism and anaemia. All can play a role, so seafarers need to know about their health and the impact of their lifestyle on it.

Diet Onboard: The effect of diet on the body can have massive implications for fatigue. Health and wellbeing rest on a good, healthy diet so it is important that meals are healthy and nutritious and contain the vitamins and minerals that are needed.

Another problem at sea can be consumption of too many caffeinated drinks. Tea and coffee are extremely important parts of life at sea – and since the demise of smoking and alcohol, having a hot drink is an important relaxation ritual for many at sea. However, these may make it harder to get to sleep, or stay asleep, especially if consumed close to bedtime. Often there is also the lure of energy drinks, and a couple of cans may give seafarers wings, but they don’t add to a good rest.

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Just last month, the 5th Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW 5) agreed on a draft set of revised International Maritime Organization (IMO) Guidelines on Fatigue. These Guidelines aim to help all stakeholders mitigate and manage fatigue, and will be submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 100) for approval in December 2018.

Many industry bodies and much research have long warned about fatigue. One of ISWAN’s partners, the UK Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP), has stressed how difficult it is to address seafarer fatigue.

They believe that safe manning should take into account the minimisation of fatigue but they constantly see malpractice; therefore, at times of high work load due to operational requirements, this number is not sufficient to manage the risks associated with fatigue in seafarers.

So, it is vital that fatigue is addressed – that the symptoms are understood and the root causes addressed. It is not enough to think of this as simply a ‘sleep’ issue, there is more to consider. Tackling or managing fatigue means looking at all the issues, such as work, contact with home, shore leave, diet, exercise…as well as rest.

The latest self-help guide in ISWAN’s series of Good Mental Health Guides includes information and tips for seafarers on how to manage fatigue and get the most from their sleep on board. Managing Stress and Sleeping Well at Sea can be downloaded here.

An audio relaxation exercise can also be streamed or downloaded here.

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22 August 2018

‘Working in partnership, seeking practical solutions’ is the title of the ISWAN Seminar 2018 to be held in Helsinki on Friday 23 November 2018.

Hosted by the Finnish Seamen’s Service, the seminar will take place at in the conference hall at Helsinki University, and is a full-day event open to all individuals concerned with providing seafarers with the highest standard of port-based services and facilities.

The one-day seminar will explore the work of partnership in:

  • Implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006
  • Removing obstacles to seafarers’ welfare
  • Health and wellbeing of seafarers
  • Supporting women in the maritime industry
  • Abandonment
  • Increasing the effectiveness of port welfare

The agenda is being finalised at the moment, but current speakers include:

  • Per Gullestrup, Chair of ISWAN
  • Tiina Tuurnala, MD of the Finnish Shipowners Association
  • Kristiina Mukala, Ministerial Counselor / Occupational Health at The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
  • Natalie Shaw, Director of Employment Affairs, ICS
  • Jason Zuidema, General Secretary of ICMA
  • Chirag Bahri, Regional Representative of ISWAN, India
  • Peter Tomlin, Chief Executive, UK MNWB
  • Sampsa Sihvola, Managing Director, Finnish Seamen’s Service
  • Heikki Karla, Finnish Seafarers Union and ITF Inspector

Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, said: ‘The programme will provide short presentations followed by Q&A and discussion on the topics. The speakers will invite debate on the issues raised, and we expect to hear from the audience in moderated discussions to get feedback on these important subjects. In Finland, the partnerships between government, unions and ship owners aim to deliver real improvement in health outcomes for seafarers. We hope to improve the quality and quantity of partnerships for the welfare of seafarers in future, and this seminar provides a great location for doing this.’

Register to attend the seminar here. Attendance costs £100 including refreshments and lunch. Booking closes on 31 October 2018.

If you are a member of ISWAN, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information on how to register.

The event is sponsored by Viking Line, the International Port Welfare Partnership Programme, and the Finnish Seamen’s Service.

For more information, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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SeafarerHelp is a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A seafarer’s workplace is also his or her home, so the effects of problems like bullying and harassment at work can be worse for those working at sea than for those in shore-based jobs. When the situation on board becomes unbearable seafarers will often contact SeafarerHelp to ask for assistance with repatriation.

An Indonesian seafarer contacted SeafarerHelp from a port in the Netherlands. He said he felt intimidated by the ship’s Chief Officer who was ‘shouting and screaming’ at him all the time. The seafarer also said that he was not getting enough rest and it seemed that there were more issues on board, but due to his limited English he couldn’t fully express his concerns in detail. He was distressed and requested assistance to get out of the situation.

The SeafarerHelp team provided the seafarer with emotional support, and with his permission they referred his case to the port’s International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Inspector. The ITF Inspector was not available to visit the ship; however, he passed the information to a colleague in the Dutch branch of the Nautilus International trade union who agreed to investigate the situation.

Meanwhile, the SeafarerHelp team received further messages from another seafarer on the same vessel who confirmed that three crew members, all Indonesian, were in the same situation and wanted to be repatriated. The team reassured the seafarer and reminded him that SeafarerHelp was always available to provide support to seafarers at any time of the day or night.

Later, the team received confirmation that the vessel had been detained by the port state control because the seafarers’ wages had not been paid. Finally, the three Indonesian seafarers were paid and repatriated. The three seafarers sent a note to the SeafarerHelp team thanking them and expressing their appreciation for the help and emotional support they had received.

If you have a problem on board and need assistance or someone to talk to, you can speak to a member of the SeafarerHelp team confidentially – all our contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org. Make a note of our details or save them on your phone in case you ever need our help or support.

We rely on charitable grants and donations for our work with seafarers and their families. Help us support those in need worldwide by donating at Virgin Money Giving or JustGiving.

16 August 2018

73 seafarers have taken part in a hydration health promotion campaign for 28 days to assess the effectiveness of materials to encourage fluid intake.

We have published the results of a pilot hydration campaign on seafarers’ water consumption on board four Nakilat ships as part of the ‘Quench’ hydration campaign.

As part of our Seafarers’ Health Information Programme (SHIP), the ‘Quench’ hydration campaign aimed to provide seafarers with the right tools and information to maintain adequate levels of hydration, such as posters highlighting the ill effects of dehydration, urine colour charts and a daily log book to measure consumption of liquids. There is currently little research on the hydration of seafarers, but experience suggests that dehydration at sea can be common. Physically demanding jobs, working in hot environments, and conscious decisions to drink less if toilet breaks are inconvenient, are among the factors which can put seafarers at risk of dehydration.

Dr Suresh Idnani, an ISWAN trustee, said: ‘This survey provides an insight into the habits of seafarers and – in some cases – shows a lack of awareness into simple matters like why they must drink enough water to stay hydrated and to work well. To ensure health and safety, seafarers should be educated to understand the negative effects of “drinking less”: lack of concentration, headaches, fever and rigors secondary to urinary tract infections, itchy flaky dry skin, bloating and dyspepsia, maybe constipation.’

The key findings from the pilot campaign were:

  • The majority of seafarers participating in the campaign drank seemingly healthy volumes of water on board
  • Some seafarers are not drinking enough water over the course of their working day
  • Seafarers on board these vessels appear to be consuming very low levels of sugary and heavily caffeinated drinks and are opting for water instead
  • All ships showed an increase in average consumption of water over the course of the survey

Samir Bailouni, Nakilat’s Chief Operating Officer – Fleet said: ‘Qatar’s summer climate can be very hot and humid with temperatures ranging between 30-50 degrees Celsius and an average humidity level of 25-75%. This kind of climate creates a potentially challenging situation for our seafarers who may be exposed to these conditions whilst loading in Ras Laffan. Putting the safety and health of our employees at the top of our agenda, Nakilat is very focused on Heat Stress Management especially during summer season. Therefore, hydration is a pivotal element in our programme, whereby our seafarers are encouraged to know the major symptoms of heat stress and to drink plenty of water at regular intervals as a good practice to minimize the risks. It is heartening to observe significant improvement of habits among the seafarers as indicated by the survey. Measuring intake and raising awareness may be taken for granted by some, yet in most cases we have seen increased amount of liquid consumption over a 28-day period.’

The poster and urine colour chart from the study are available for companies or seafarers to download from the ISWAN website to assist seafarers in monitoring their own hydration levels and encourage companies to make sure drinking water is provided close to places of work on board ship.

The full report can be downloaded here. Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, said: ‘ISWAN would welcome feedback on this issue, and any experiences of strategies which successfully deal with dehydration, from the seafarer or the employer’s perspective.’

For more information, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Quench logo

6 August 2018

Back in June, our Regional Representative in Nigeria, Afusat Eke, celebrated this year’s Day of the Seafarer over three days with seafarers in Lagos.


Saturday 23 June: Afusat joined Apapa Port Welfare Committee Chairman Aina Akinbola and Secretary Barnabas Epu on a ship visit to celebrate Day of the Seafarer with the crew on board. The crew was invited to a Sunday service the following day organised by the Mission to Seafarers.


Mr. Epu (far left), Afusat (2nd from right) and Mr. Akinbola (far right) with crew


Sunday 24 July: The seafarers were collected from the terminal at the Port of Apapa and taken to the Anglican Church for the Day of the Seafarer service. They were then taken shopping at Apapa Mall.


Afusat and Mr. Epu (far right) with members of the Merchant Navy and foreign stakeholders at the church service


At the church service with Rev. Aduroja (4th from left) of the Mission to Seafarers


Monday 25 June: On Day of the Seafarer itself, local seafarers and relevant stakeholders attended a seminar held at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Western Zone Office in Lagos. A renowned medical doctor and a former engineer and seafarer well known in the Nigerian maritime industry spoke about the importance of seafarers’ wellbeing.


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Afusat cutting the cake at the seminar with Mr. Olayemi Abass (far right), Director of the NIMASA Western Zone


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26 July 2018

ISWAN is partnering with MHG Insurance Brokers to launch a survey of seafarers who work on superyachts to investigate welfare issues specific to the sector.

Questions will be asked on food, cabins and communications, as well as the health and wellbeing of the men and women working on board. The survey has been designed to:

  • highlight areas of welfare needs among seafarers on superyachts
  • see what is working well under current conditions to meet their welfare needs, and what needs improvement
  • explore how existing seafarers’ welfare structures may meet these needs and where there is scope for new provision

A recent survey commissioned by Yachting Pages Media Group found that 75% of crew surveyed said that the industry is not doing enough to tackle mental health problems and look after the overall wellbeing of crew. The results of Yachting Pages Media Group’s survey can be found here.

‘Maritime welfare organisations are used to dealing with seafarers on cargo and cruise ships. The number of seafarers in the yacht sector has grown to around 35,000, and we need to know more about the challenges which are specific to the superyacht sector. As seafarers on superyachts are covered by the provisions of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention their welfare needs – at sea and ashore – should be better known and provided for,’ said Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN.

Andrew Dudzinski, CEO of MHG Insurance Brokers, explained their support of this initiative: ‘The welfare of all crew, but especially those who are insured with MHG, is a primary concern for us. The mental and physical health and wellbeing of these seafarers is not just a professional interest. We want to know better what makes them tick and how their time at sea can be improved.’

Andrew Wright, Secretary General of the Mission to Seafarers, who are assisting with the distribution of the survey, said: ‘Yacht crew do an amazing job, catering to a small but very influential clientele, providing a phenomenal level of professionalism and service. For most crew this is a satisfying and wonderful job, but we need to see where improvements can be made.’

Members of superyacht crew can answer the survey at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/yachtcrew. The results will be published in a report on the ISWAN website in December 2018.

For further information, please contact:

Tom Holmer
ISWAN, Croydon, UK
Telephone: +44 20 8253 0163
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: +44 7807 311852

Diana Gonzalez
MHG Insurance Brokers, Florida, USA
Telephone: +1 954 548 3581
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: +1 954 232 2957

For all the latest news in seafarers’ welfare, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter here.

25 July 2018

A team of three riders will cycle 100 miles through London and Surrey this weekend in support of our work for seafarers’ welfare.

The team, including our Executive Director Roger Harris, will take part in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 this Sunday (29 July) to raise funds for the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN).

The 100-mile route through the capital and Surrey countryside was made famous by the world’s best cyclists at the London 2012 Olympics, and 25,000 amateur cyclists are expected to take part in the event this year.

You can show your support for our team by donating via their pages below. Your contribution will support our work for the welfare of seafarers worldwide. Our team is:

Roger Harris: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RogerHarris10
Paul Cregg: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/PaulCregg
Chris Jackson: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ChrisJackson42

Good luck to the team!

For all the latest news in seafarers’ welfare, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter here.

25 July 2018

ISWAN recently took part in the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia‘s (CGPCS) 21st plenary, held on 12 – 13 July 2018.

At least 60 member states and international organisations attended the plenary, which was chaired by the Republic of Mauritius as Chair of the Indian Ocean Commission and held at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya.

The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) was represented at the meeting by our Regional Director for South Asia, Chirag Bahri. ISWAN manages the CGPCS Piracy Survivors Family Fund (PSFF), which provides financial support to seafarers and their families affected by Somali piracy. Chirag presented a detailed report to members on the fund’s activities and informed them that 10 applications had been successfully approved by the fund’s advisors, benefitting seafarers in China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

During deliberations held during the plenary and working group meetings, members acknowledged that piracy remains a threat in the Gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean and expressed their concerns for recent incidents. They called on the shipping industry to ensure compliance with the recently published Best Management Practices (BMP5).

The CGPCS welcomed the endorsement of an amendment to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) by the Special Tripartite Committee of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), which ensures the payment of seafarers’ wages while they are held captive by pirates.

The members also discussed the new maritime threats emerging in the Indian Ocean affecting the navigation and safety of ships and their crews. The Chair and members applauded the efforts of ISWAN, ISWAN’s Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) and the PSFF to provide a range of support during and after captivity, and they recognised the need to continue supporting these initiatives. The CGPCS remains committed to the objective of ‘zero seafarers and zero ships’ in the hands of Somali pirates and urged its international partners to continue with efforts to release the remaining four Iranian fishermen on board the vessel FV Siraj.

While attending the session, ISWAN’s representative Chirag Bahri met with various delegates from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Panama, Norway, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other delegations to discuss the welfare of seafarers affected by piracy incidents, seafarers’ abandonment and contractual issues affecting seafarers’ mental wellbeing at sea.

We would like to thank all funders for their generous contributions to the CGPCS Piracy Survivors Family Fund and all partners extending their support.

ISWAN's Chirag Bahri speaking at the plenary:

CGPCS Plenary Nairobi 2

 For all the latest news in seafarers’ welfare, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter here.

24 July 2018

The second quarterly report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) shows that all 2018 crew kidnappings have so far occurred in the Gulf of Guinea in six separate incidents.

A total of 107 incidents were reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in the first six months of 2018. In total, 69 vessels were boarded, with 23 attempted attacks, 11 vessels fired upon and four vessels hijacked. No vessels were reported as hijacked in the second quarter of 2018.

The number of crewmembers taken hostage increased from 63 to 102 compared to the same time period in 2017.

The number of crew kidnappings decreased from 41 by the second quarter in 2017 to 25 so far in 2018. However, all 25 crew kidnappings reported this year have occurred over six incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, highlighting the higher risks in this area.

Moreover, the true number of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea is believed to be 'significantly higher' than what is reported to the IMB PRC, says the report.

Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, said: 'The 2018 figures aptly demonstrate the value of timely and transparent reporting. The reports help to focus on risk areas, and to accurately inform vessels of evolving dangers and allow authorities to deliver an effective response.'

Fewer incidents in the Philippines and off Somalia

Outside the Gulf of Guinea, the number of 2018 incidents decreased in other piracy hotspots. There were no reported incidents recorded off the coast of Somalia in the second quarter of 2018. Masters are however again urged to continue to maintain high levels of vigilance when transiting the high-risk area and to follow the latest version of the best management practices.

The number of incidents in the Philippines dropped from 13 by the second quarter of 2017 to three in the same time period this year.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is also commended for the prompt and successful boarding of a product tanker which was under attack by armed robbers around six nautical miles East off Pulau Tinggi, Malaysia.

Fourteen robbers were detained for investigation and two were arrested in Indonesia by Indonesian Enforcement authorities.

The full report can be downloaded below.

6 July 2018

The UK P&I Club is running a global maritime competition – ‘Investing in a Safer Tomorrow’ – to mark its 150th anniversary.

The 2019 competition aims to unlock future talent by challenging university students and those embarking on a maritime career to make a difference, collaborate and develop industry-changing ideas to find the next great idea in shipping innovation, with a focus on improving safety at sea.

The competition is open to people between the ages of 18 and 30 who are embarking on a maritime career both at sea and on shore. Individuals or teams of up to four are invited to develop an innovative idea and proposal aimed at improving an element of safety at sea. The idea can cover all aspects of safety – from innovation in seafarer wellbeing through to a tangible invention to improve physical safety or navigation.

Finalists will be invited to attend the Club’s 150th Gala Dinner in London and the winning team or individual will receive a prize fund of $30,000, with $15,000 awarded for second place and $5,000 for third place.

Stage one of the competition is open until 30 November 2018. Entries must be submitted via the competition website where more information can be found: 150competition.ukpandi.com.

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