19 June 2018

Ship visiting season has arrived this year for the ISWAN and SeafarerHelp team, starting with a trip to the Port of Tilbury earlier this month.

Two of our team members were greeted by Deutsche Seemannsmission Port Chaplain Mark Möller, part of an ecumenical team of chaplains at London Tilbury Seafarers’ Centre. Mark showed our team members around the centre, which is managed by Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest. It offers free WiFi and has a 24-hour lounge with a TV and pool table which seafarers can use when the centre is closed. SIM cards, mobile phone top-ups, snacks and London-themed souvenirs can be purchased there and free minibus pick-ups are available every afternoon to bring seafarers from their vessels to the centre.

Our team accompanied Mark on two ship visits. They spoke to crew members on board about the free, 24-hour helpline service offered by SeafarerHelp and left SeafarerHelp posters, mugs and contact cards in the ships’ galleys. On the first ship, a container ship transporting waste to Amsterdam, our SeafarerHelp Russian speaker also gave one-to-one emotional support to a crew member who was experiencing some difficulties on board. The crew were very hospitable – the cook brought pieces of cake from the captain’s birthday, and the captain took our team members and Mark up to the bridge where there were spectacular views of the port and surrounding area.

ISWAN would like to thank Port Chaplain Mark Möller for generously giving his time to take our team members on his ship visits and providing a valuable insight into seafarers’ welfare provision at the Port of Tilbury.

London Tilbury Seafarers' Centre:


The 24-hour lounge at the seafarers' centre:

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Seafarers at work on the container ship our team members visited:

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The view of the Port of Tilbury from the bridge:

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18 June 2018

Members of ISWAN India’s Programme Steering Group met in Mumbai on 7 June to discuss the programme’s latest activities to promote the welfare of Indian seafarers and their families.

The meeting was chaired by ISWAN Trustee Michael Pinto, Former Secretary at the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India (DGS). ISWAN Trustees Deepak Shetty and Dr Suresh Idnani attended, along with senior representatives from:

• Directorate General of Shipping (DGS)
• Indian National Shipowners' Association (INSA)
• Maritime Association of Shipowners, Ship Managers and Agents (MASSA)
• Foreign Owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA)
• National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI)
• Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI)
• Maritime Union of India (MUI)
• Company of Master Mariners of India (CMMI)
• Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) India
• Sailors’ Society
• Mission to Seafarers

Chirag Bahri, ISWAN’s Regional Director, presented the work report and informed members that ISWAN India’s work programme has received a grant for the next three years. Members were invited to suggest and give guidance on ways to implement the programme in India.

The steering group discussed ISWAN’s ongoing campaign against non-registered manning agents. Members stressed the importance of raising awareness among seafarers and their families about the effects of joining ships through fly-by-night agents.

Members also discussed the incidents of piracy off West Africa affecting Indian seafarers. They stressed that seafarers should not be complacent while transiting through piracy prone areas, and should be briefed on coping in captivity and how to deal with such incidents in case they are kidnapped.

Finally, the steering group deliberated over how to raise awareness of mental wellbeing among seafarers while on board, and how best seafarers can look after the health of fellow crew members on board as well as their own.

ISWAN India is following up with the Ministry of Shipping to encourage Indian ports to establish Port Welfare Committees, which is a requirement under the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

The programme is grateful to INSA, which hosted the meeting, for its support. ISWAN thanks all the members for sharing their valuable time and guiding the programme to assist distressed seafarers and their families, and thanks the funders for their immense support.

15 June 2018

Our series of Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers has been shortlisted in the Best Crew Welfare Programme/Campaign category of the Safety at Sea Awards 2018.

Safety at Sea has a long history of promoting safe and secure work practices within the commercial shipping industry. A new category for 2018, Best Crew Welfare Programme/Campaign recognises innovative and original developments that have the potential to improve security on board and/or on shore.

Our Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers have been produced as part of our Seafarers’ Health Information Programme (SHIP) in partnership with the Shipowners’ Club. The series consists of two self-help guides – Steps to Positive Mental Health and Psychological Wellbeing at Sea – along with a selection of infographics and an audio relaxation exercise, all of which can be downloaded for free on the SeafarerHelp website. Written by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr. Pennie Blackburn, the guides aim to help seafarers understand how to take care of their mental wellbeing and provide tips and exercises to help seafarers both maximise their wellbeing and deal with low mood or stress at sea.

The winners of the Safety at Sea Awards 2018 will be announced at a ceremony in London on 18 October. For more information, please visit sasawards.com.

7 June 2018

We have joined forces with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to launch a photo competition in celebration of Day of the Seafarer.

Seafarers are invited to submit their best photographs showing a typical day at sea, whether at work, rest or play. The theme of this year’s Day of the Seafarer on 25 June is ‘Seafarers’ Wellbeing’, so photos should reflect the theme hashtags #SupportSeafarersWellbeing and #GoodDayatSea.

A panel of expert judges will choose the winners and the result will be announced in the fourth quarter of 2018. The overall winner will receive a GoPro Hero 6 and an iPad, the second place prize is an iPad, and highly commended entries will receive a digital photo frame.

Seafarers can upload up to three photos each to the photo wall at dayoftheseafarerphotos.imo.org and entries must be submitted by 12pm on 31 July 2018. The competition terms and conditions can be found here.

Numbering over 1.6 million, seafarers make up a maritime workforce which is largely invisible to the general public, despite transporting 90% of the world’s goods. When tragic incidents involving loss of life take place at sea, they may be reported in the media but the ordeal suffered by the crew involved is not always fully understood.

In October 2017, bulk carrier Emerald Star was transporting nickel ore from Indonesia to China with an Indian crew of 26 when it was struck by tragedy, resulting in the loss of 10 crew members. Those rescued from the sea had experienced a terrifying ordeal in which they feared for their lives.

The ship was off the Philippines when it suddenly began to roll heavily around midnight on the night of 12 October. A senior officer later reported that the crew had checked weather alerts the evening before and there were no concerning weather conditions forecast for the ship’s passage, so they had maintained their course.

The senior officer, who was on rest when the ship began to roll, woke up and wondered what was happening. At around 00:45, he received a call from the duty officer that the ship was listing towards the port side. He immediately changed his attire and went to the bridge where the master was assisting the duty officer and trying to make adjustments in the ship’s course.

Within 10 minutes, the vessel had listed heavily towards the port side. At 01:30, the main engines cut out and there was a complete blackout on the ship. The senior officer said: ‘We were totally blank and clueless as what to do’.

The master sounded the emergency alarm and instructed all crew to assemble with their life jackets. Some of the crew started to panic as the ship listed about 20 degrees to port side. Instead of waiting for further orders, some crew members jumped off the ship, fearing that they would go down with it if they stayed on board and hoping they could embark on the lifeboat when it was released. One crew member later said: ‘We did not even [have] time to launch lifeboat as [the] ship listed heavily on one side and we could do nothing’.

The ship listed to 45 degrees and water flooded the ship. Most of the crew, including the officers on the bridge, were washed away by the swell. They later said that they thought the end was near. The crew were initially submerged but returned to the surface thanks to their lifejackets to see that the ship had sunk. Some of the crew were covered in fuel oil and unable to open their eyes. One crew member later said: ‘We could not believe that such a big ship can sink in such a short notice. It was hardly 10 minutes that vessel listed to almost 90 degrees and then went down’.

The crew found themselves fighting for their lives amidst high swells in rain and total darkness. Some attempted to swim but others recalled their training and tried to conserve their energy. A few grouped together as they had been taught in their training and could see the lights on the life jackets of other crew members floating nearby, but these eventually faded as their wearers were carried away by the swell. Some crew members were able to climb into the ship’s lifeboat, which had inflated after the ship sank, but found that one of the compartments was damaged. The crew took turns to go inside while the others remained in the water, using grab lines to keep the raft floating.

The crew’s morale was lifted by the knowledge that there were two ships nearby which could potentially rescue them. When these ships reached the location of the incident but did not launch rescue operations, the senior crew members had to calm down the anxious juniors who were shouting and yelling for help. They advised the juniors that since it was dark and raining, the ships would likely launch rescue operations by the first light of the day.

At around 05:00 on 13 October, the vessels DENSA COBRA and SAMARINDA started to rescue the crew. Rescue was not easy and 16 of the crew were rescued in stages by the two vessels, but 10 remained missing. SAMARINDA stayed on the scene for one extra day to continue search operations but could not locate the missing crew. The crew reported that the Japanese Coast Guard joined the search and rescue around 14:00.

After the incident, ISWAN attended an aerial search with the Philippine Coast Guard, and worked with the Coast Guard and the Indian Government to keep the families of the missing seafarers informed about search and rescue efforts. The remains of one crew member were later found and the identity confirmed by DNA testing, but the rest remained missing. Throughout this ordeal, the families received moral support from ISWAN’s representative in India and were referred to our free, 24-hour helpline, SeafarerHelp, if they needed further emotional support.

Speaking to ISWAN afterwards, the surviving crew said they still prayed that their missing crewmates were located. They were having flashbacks of the incident and although most of them had recovered physically, they were still suffering from bad dreams. They appreciated the response from the shipping company, which had supported them well.

This tragic incident showed how, in times of crisis, moral support from others and strong leadership can be potentially lifesaving, as can effective training on responding in life-threatening situations. One of the crew members later said that in times of crisis, one becomes blank but if there is some moral support from fellow colleagues, it helps them to think more clearly. In this case, the junior ranks were more distressed and could not think of exactly what they should do at that time.

At the time of writing, the Indian Government has received a preliminary report on the cause of the incident from the flag state, Hong Kong, and the manning agency is working on presumed death certificates for the missing crew. Compensation will then be provided to the families according to the seafarers’ contracts. One family is reluctant to accept the death certificate, believing their loved one is still alive, and they are doing everything they can to convince authorities to restart search and rescue operations.

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.

6 June 2018

Last month, ISWAN joined the GOLD Foundation and AMOSUP in Manila to stage the kick-start forum of ‘Kumusta, Kabaro?’: A Mental Health Awareness Campaign for Seafarers and their Families.

Around 170 participants from 24 maritime institutions attended the event, which focused on delivering Hope, Awareness and Prevention and aimed to invite potential partners to support the cause. The forum was organised by the Gregorio Oca Leadership and Development (GOLD) Foundation in partnership with ISWAN and the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP).

Speakers included special guest TJ Manotoc, a journalist and mental health advocate, and Dan Aldrich Tolentino, Training Manager at the International Maritime Employers’ Council, who both spoke about their personal experiences of depression and how to overcome the challenges.

A panel of experts addressed the science of depression and what it means to be well at sea and at home. The University of Santo Thomas Graduate School Psychotrauma Clinic referenced ISWAN’s Good Mental Health Guides in their presentation and topics including the signs and symptoms of stress, therapeutic techniques and coping strategies were discussed. Delegates had the opportunity to question the panel and share thoughts and information afterwards.

The forum formed part of a three-year campaign plan working with key future partners from the industry to raise awareness of mental health issues among seafarers and their families. More information about the campaign can be downloaded below.


Special guest TJ Manotoc at the ISWAN stand

23 May 2018

A new approach is needed to combat maritime threats, says One Earth Future in its latest report.

  • Piracy events off the Horn of Africa doubled last year compared to the year before indicating that Somali criminal networks are still capable of sophisticated attacks.
  • Overall incidents in the Latin America and Caribbean region increased by 160%, indicating the opportunistic nature of actors in the region.
  • Piracy continues to pose a threat in the Gulf of Guinea despite a broad array of countermeasures implemented by coastal states and maritime security companies.
  • Kidnap-for-ransom incidents in Asia decreased by 80%, in large part due to the effective cooperation by regional law enforcement actors.

The number of piracy incidents doubled off the coast of East Africa in 2017 compared to 2016, according to the annual State of Piracy report released today by One Earth Future (OEF)’s Oceans Beyond Piracy programme. The report analyses the human and economic impacts of maritime piracy and robbery at sea in the Western Indian Ocean Region, the Gulf of Guinea, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

'Pirate activity in 2017 clearly demonstrates that pirate groups retain their ability to organise and implement attacks against ships transiting the region,' says Maisie Pigeon, the report’s lead author.

Incidents in this maritime space have posed an additional threat to shipping transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

2017 State of Piracy Report East Africa extract

'There are now a wide range of threats to shipping near the Horn of Africa that have been complicated by the conflict and instability in Yemen,' says Phil Belcher, Marine Director of INTERTANKO. 'We are advising our members to consider a more comprehensive security assessment to take into account other threats beyond traditional piracy emanating from the regional conflict in Yemen.'

Maritime crime in Latin America and the Caribbean is also on the rise.

'We have observed a significant increase in violent incidents and anchorage crime, particularly in the anchorages of Venezuela and the recent violent incidents off Suriname in the first part of this year,' says Pigeon.

2017 State of Piracy Report Latin America and the Caribbean extract

Piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea continue at persistently high levels. In 2017, 1,726 seafarers were impacted in a total of 97 incidents, despite the increased efforts of regional states and contracted maritime security providers. The report shows a US$13.2 million increase on spending by regional states on law enforcement and naval patrols, and that there has been a continued proliferation of contracted maritime security schemes. A South Korean vessel Munmu the Great was re-deployed to the Gulf of Guinea in response to the kidnapping of 3 South Korean fishermen in March.

'Kidnap-for-ransom continues to plague the region, which is a trend that has unfortunately continued from 2016,' says Pigeon. The report found that 100 crewmembers were taken hostage in 2016.

2017 State of Piracy Report West Africa extract

The piracy situation in Asia improved considerably in 2017, with overall incidents down by over 20% from 2016. Most encouraging was that kidnap-for-ransom attacks decreased from 22 in 2016 to just 4 in 2017. 'We believe that much of the credit for this progress is due to the trilateral patrols between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia,' says Gregory Clough, Ocean Beyond Piracy’s acting director.

Having assessed the state of global piracy and armed robbery dating back to 2011, OEF has concluded that piracy is just one piece of a number of issues affecting maritime security. Criminal gangs operating at sea have been observed moving between different crimes and can sustain themselves without necessarily resorting to piracy activity. OEF has observed growing consensus that piracy and other crimes cannot be comprehensively addressed unless the maritime community begins to address the broader issues that create insecurity at sea.

'Piracy is just one issue in a complex web affecting maritime security,' says Larry Sampler, OEF’s president. 'Where there is good governance seas are safer, coastal communities are healthier, and the blue economies grow stronger. OEF is committed to promoting global maritime security.'

The Executive Summary of the 2017 State of Piracy Report can be downloaded below.

22 May 2018

NIVA Education is running a course aimed at health care professionals and related staff working within shipping companies, P&I clubs, in the medical selection of seafarers, as providers of remote medical assistance services and in port health clinics.

Medical emergencies aboard ships at sea pose a continuing risk to the life and health of seafarers. They also have adverse financial and operational consequences for ship operators.

The Nordic Institute for Advanced Training in Occupational Health (NIVA) is offering a course entitled 'Managing Medical Emergencies at Sea: Risks and Responses', which will consider how such risks can be prevented and mitigated, both by action in advance of an incident and by effective management of emergencies when they arise.

Participants will gain experience and understanding of:

  • The identification and assessment of the risks of medical emergencies at sea. The differing perspectives of seafarers, trainers, health professionals, shipping managers and regulatory authorities will be reviewed.
  • The role of operational planning in emergency preparedness.
  • The impact of incidents on different stakeholders within the shipping industry.
  • The frequency and severity of medical emergencies at sea.
  • The role of factors including international conventions and national regulations, training, the ship’s medical guide, medical equipment on board and support from remote medical assistance services, in managing both the risk and their consequences.
  • The risks and benefits of medical evacuation, port health care and repatriation.

The course will take place on 30 October – 1 November 2018 at the Hotel Marienlyst, Helsingør (Elsinore), Denmark.

For more information and to register, please click here.

Although ISWAN’s main office is based in South London, we operate beyond the UK to help seafarers around the world. We have representatives working in the Philippines, India and Nigeria under our Regional Programme.

When seven Bangladeshi seafarers were forcefully removed from their vessel and abandoned without pay, our Regional Representative in Nigeria was there to assist and support them.

Despite being on six-month contracts, the seafarers had been working on the Nigerian tanker for over a year. Conditions on board were poor, but when the crew members raised the welfare issues with the ship owner, the owner threatened to report them to the Navy and the crew became very frightened.

According to the captain, the seafarers were tortured, forcefully removed from the vessel and taken without an official handover to a hotel, where they were forced to sign documents under duress and subsequently abandoned.

Two of the seafarers were critically ill and had no access to medical treatment, and all were owed a year’s salary. The seafarers were left at the hotel depressed, traumatised and frustrated, and they felt helpless in their situation.

The seafarers’ case was referred to ISWAN’s Regional Representative in Nigeria, Afusat Eke. Afusat made weekly visits to the seafarers to check on their wellbeing and provided them with emotional support and counselling. While the seafarers were waiting to be paid their salaries and repatriated, the captain’s mother died. This devastating news left the captain frequently in tears and feeling suicidal, but Afusat comforted and reassured him to help him remain calm in this stressful situation.

Afusat also forwarded the case to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), who forced the seafarer’s employer to take action. The seafarers were repatriated to Bangladesh having been paid part of their salary, with the assurance that the balance would be paid in instalments.

Upon returning to Bangladesh, one of the seafarers contacted Afusat to show his appreciation for her efforts: ‘Thanks you Madam for your help and thanks to all those who assisted in [our repatriation] back to Bangladesh’.

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

18 May 2018

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federal Transport Authority (FTA) have signed a ground-breaking Memorandum of Understanding to work together to protect the rights of all seafarers operating in UAE waters.

On signing the memorandum at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London, ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said: 'We at the ITF are committed to ensuring seafarers are protected all around the world. This is a significant opportunity to work with our partners in the UAE to bring seafarers and workers’ safety to forefront of the conversation.

'This agreement is just the beginning and will hopefully pave the way for similar agreements in other territories. We are keen to work for greater cooperation, in all areas of transportation.'

Dr. Abdullah Belheif Al Nuaimi, minister of infrastructure development and chairman of the FTA board of directors, spoke at the event: 'This agreement allows us to consult, cooperate and coordinate jointly and continuously to find legal solutions regarding the abandonment of seafarers aboard ships, by ship owners and operators, and to work together to combat and prevent the occurrence of this phenomenon in the future.'

This is the first agreement of its kind between a government authority and the ITF. The two parties are committed to working closely together and sharing information to provide comprehensive and timely support to in need vessels and seafarers within UAE waters.

ISWAN warmly welcomes this agreement and hopes that it will lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of abandoned seafarers in the UAE. ISWAN is committed to working with both the ITF and the FTA in seeking solutions to this problem.