ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp is a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year so even if it is a weekend or public holiday, a member of our team will always be here to help.

During the Tall Ships shipping festival on the River Thames in the UK, SeafarerHelp was contacted by the husband of a seafarer who was at the event. His wife’s health had been deteriorating over the last few days but the captain would not allow her to leave the vessel for medical attention. It was also the weekend and he was not sure what services would be available to help his wife.

The vessel was only a few hours away from setting sail so the SeafarerHelp team had to act quickly. They contacted the event organisers who arranged for someone to visit the ship. They confirmed that the seafarer was unwell and took her to see the port doctor. The doctor diagnosed the seafarer’s condition, gave her the appropriate medication and she returned to the ship with instructions to rest.

The seafarer’s husband was grateful to SeafarerHelp for the assistance, and explained that ‘it would have been impossible’ to get help for his wife if the helpline was not available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you are a seafarer or their family member and need assistance, 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.

With support from a number of partners in India, ISWAN has launched a campaign to discourage Indian seafarers from signing up with crewing agencies which have not registered with the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS).

Every year, thousands of Indian seafarers join merchant shipping through unregistered crewing agencies. Many of them have been left stranded outside India or not been paid their wages. Some have even fallen into the trap of working on a ship carrying illegal cargo, and have had to spend a considerable amount of time in prison, most likely through no fault of their own. Another problem is that seafarers with unregistered crewing agencies will not be able to appear for higher grade examinations conducted by the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) of the DGS. All these difficulties affect not only the seafarers themselves but also their families, who can find themselves financially at risk without a reliable income upon which to survive. ISWAN has been contacted by a number of Indian seafarers in such situations through its SeafarerHelp helpline, and aims to address this critical problem with the campaign.

ISWAN’s campaign aims to discourage Indian seafarers from signing up with unregistered crewing agencies by raising awareness of the risks they would face by doing so. A poster and flyer have been produced to promote the campaign’s message – these can be downloaded at the bottom of this page. The DGS has issued a circular advising Maritime Training Institutes, RPSL manning agents and other relevant departments and organisations to support the campaign. Adverts will also run on ISWAN’s social media pages to spread the message amongst seafarers in India.

It is mandatory for all Recruitment and Placement Services (RPS) providers in India to register with the DGS and obtain a Recruitment and Placement Services Licence (RPSL). The full list of registered agencies can be found on the DGS website – see here. ISWAN recently conducted an online survey of Indian seafarers, which received over 200 responses, to find out how much they knew about the risks of signing up with unregistered crewing agencies. Around 90% knew what an RPSL was and how to find out if an agency had one; however, when asked if they had ever signed up with an unregistered crewing agency in the past, 13% of survey respondents said they had. These respondents had experienced problems such as delayed or unpaid salaries, sea time not counted by the MMD, and money lost after paying the agency. Around 20% of respondents did not think that contract issues and sea time not being counted were potential risks, and nearly a third did not realise that they would risk abandonment or even their entire career. Six respondents stated that they would sign up with an unregistered crewing agency in future, with some saying they would do so if they could not find a job elsewhere. ISWAN will conduct a follow-up study to gauge the impact of the campaign and review where future work may be needed.

ISWAN would like to thank the Directorate General of Shipping for its support, as well as the following campaign partners: the Maritime Association of Ship Owners & Ship Managers (MASSA), the Foreign Ship-owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA), the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA), the Indian Coastal Conference Shipping Association (ICCSA), the Maritime Union of India (MUI), the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), the Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI) and the Maritime Awareness Program Society (MAPS).

SeafarerHelp is a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When seafarers are being treated badly and forced to work and live in substandard conditions on board, the SeafarerHelp team can provide support and assistance.

SeafarerHelp was contacted by a Filipino seafarer in Sudan who complained that the crew on board his ship was not being provided with proper meals; in addition, there were a number of other problems on board. He said that the cook did not want to provide food for the Filipinos on board and had given the responsibility to the mess boy, but the subsequent quality of the food was poor. The master had also ordered for the galley to be closed after the evening meal, which meant those on the midnight to early morning watch often missed breakfast. When the deck officer requested for the galley to be kept open so he and his crew mates could prepare their own breakfasts, he said the master shouted at him and refused. In addition, there was no running water and hygiene in the galley was not up to standard. The crew asked for immediate repatriation due to stress, the conditions on board and the lack of proper food.

With the seafarer’s consent, SeafarerHelp notified the ITF Seafarers Support team in London and referred the case to the Philippines Consulate in Sudan in order to try and sort out the problems the crew were facing and get them repatriated. The SeafarerHelp team kept in constant contact with the crew, who were refusing to work or obey orders due to the discrimination they were experiencing on board and the general living conditions. To add to their stress, the ship was arrested due to debts that had not been paid. While all this was going on, the aunt of one of the seafarers passed away and the SeafarerHelp team provided emotional support to him. The team also supported the seafarers when they raised concerns about documents they had been asked to sign, which were provided by a law firm hired by their manning agency.

Three months later, the crew of 15 was still on board in Sudan and the situation was getting worse. There was very little diesel for the generators and most of the time the ship was in darkness. There was no refrigeration or air conditioning and life on board was extremely unpleasant. The crew had been told a couple of times that they were going to be repatriated but it had not happened. They complained that they had been abandoned by the owner in very poor conditions and were desperate to go home. The SeafarerHelp team continued to support the crew while ISWAN’s representative in the Philippines took the case up with the Government Department in the Philippines.

The seafarers were eventually repatriated four months after their first contact with SeafarerHelp. The crew were grateful for the SeafarerHelp team’s assistance and one said: ‘Thank you teamhelp, I will never forget everything you did…I am so proud to know you…walang katapusang pasasalamat [infinite gratitude]’.

If you are a seafarer or family member of a seafarer and need assistance with repatriation or poor conditions on board, you can speak to a member of the SeafarerHelp team confidentially – all our contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org.

24 January 2018

With support from a number of partners in India, ISWAN is launching a new campaign to discourage Indian seafarers from signing up with crewing agencies which have not registered with the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS).

Every year, thousands of Indian seafarers join merchant shipping through unregistered crewing agencies. Many of them have been left stranded outside India or not been paid their wages. Some have even fallen into the trap of working on a ship carrying illegal cargo, and have had to spend a considerable amount of time in prison, most likely through no fault of their own. Another problem is that seafarers with unregistered crewing agencies will not be able to appear for higher grade examinations conducted by the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) of the DGS. All these difficulties affect not only the seafarers themselves but also their families, who can find themselves financially at risk without a reliable income upon which to survive. ISWAN has been contacted by a number of Indian seafarers in such situations through its SeafarerHelp helpline, and aims to address this critical problem with the new campaign.

ISWAN’s campaign aims to discourage Indian seafarers from signing up with unregistered crewing agencies by raising awareness of the risks they would face by doing so. A poster and flyer have been produced to promote the campaign’s message – these can be downloaded at the bottom of this page. The DGS has issued a circular advising Maritime Training Institutes, RPSL manning agents and other relevant departments and organisations to support the campaign. Adverts will also run on ISWAN’s social media pages to spread the message amongst seafarers in India.

It is mandatory for all Recruitment and Placement Services (RPS) providers in India to register with the DGS and obtain a Recruitment and Placement Services Licence (RPSL). The full list of registered agencies can be found on the DGS website – see here. ISWAN recently conducted an online survey of Indian seafarers, which received over 200 responses, to find out how much they knew about the risks of signing up with unregistered crewing agencies. Around 90% knew what an RPSL was and how to find out if an agency had one; however, when asked if they had ever signed up with an unregistered crewing agency in the past, 13% of survey respondents said they had. These respondents had experienced problems such as delayed or unpaid salaries, sea time not counted by the MMD, and money lost after paying the agency. Around 20% of respondents did not think that contract issues and sea time not being counted were potential risks, and nearly a third did not realise that they would risk abandonment or even their entire career. Six respondents stated that they would sign up with an unregistered crewing agency in future, with some saying they would do so if they could not find a job elsewhere. ISWAN will conduct a follow-up study to gauge the impact of the campaign and review where future work may be needed.

ISWAN would like to thank the Directorate General of Shipping for its support, as well as the following campaign partners: the Maritime Association of Ship Owners & Ship Managers (MASSA), the Foreign Ship-owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA), the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA), the Indian Coastal Conference Shipping Association (ICCSA), the Maritime Union of India (MUI), the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), the Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI) and the Maritime Awareness Program Society (MAPS).

23 January 2018

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federal Transport Authority – Land and Maritime has issued a circular requiring all UAE-flagged ships trading internationally and all ships operating in UAE waters above 200 gross tons to have a contract of insurance to protect seafarers.

The insurance relates to cases of abandonment, death or serious injury of seafarers and covers up to four months’ owed contractual wages and entitlements. The measure is due to enter into force on 20th February, 2018.

‘Hundreds of Indian seafarers have been subjected to inhumane treatment on board a few merchant vessels and gone through an extremely difficult ordeal,’ said Chirag Bahri, ISWAN’s Regional Director – South Asia. ‘Some of these incidents took place in UAE waters so it is a very welcome step by the UAE Government to safeguard the basic rights of seafarers in their waters and internationally.

‘ISWAN’s 24-hour, free, multilingual helpline, SeafarerHelp, has registered a number of such cases over the last few months and has extended moral humanitarian support to the crew. A few seafarers have sadly lost their lives due to an accident on board such ships and others have to go through long, impatient and very stressful lives with little or no food, no power and having to survive in extreme, harsh and unhygienic conditions on the ship. Their families, who had taken out loans to send to their loved ones in order to maintain their livelihood, are equally the worst sufferers. In one of the cases, the families of the seafarers who died in an accident on board seven months ago are still waiting for any compensation or any such relief from the ship owner. This has led to a loss of trust and aggregated more financial stress on the grieving families.’

Recent reports suggest that the UAE will soon ratify the Maritime Labour Convention. Chirag Bahri added: ‘It is hoped that such incidents will eventually die down and the seafarers will get the due dignity and respect that they deserve by working on vessels at high seas. ISWAN welcomes the decision of the UAE Federal Transport Authority and hopes that it will enforce such ship owners who had previously abandoned crew to look after them as a valuable and precious asset serving on board.’

15 January 2018

Jakir Hossain, a young cadet from Bangladesh, was captured by Somali pirates on MV Albedo in 2010 and spent almost four long, traumatic years in captivity. He was released in June 2014 and finally the enormous stress and anxiety he and his family suffered have come to a promising end.

ISWAN previously published Jakir’s story (which can be found here) following his release, which highlighted the far-reaching effects of such an ordeal on a seafarer who had spent so long in captivity. Following the incident, the crew were concerned about their future careers but ISWAN’s Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) continued its support of the seafarers and their family members after they were released.

Jakir was provided with all the fees he needed towards his higher grade examinations and training courses, and his parents were assisted with medical care since their son was not yet able to support them. Jakir has now cleared all his higher grade examinations with the Department of Shipping in Bangladesh and has now joined a merchant vessel to pursue his dream of sailing on the high seas once more.

Thanking ISWAN, Jakir said that today he and his parents are very happy that he could rejoin a ship and that his dream and passion to sail will become a reality again: ‘This would not have been possible without the generous support and grant of funds by MPHRP and ISWAN. My parents join me to express our sincere gratitude to the funders and all those who assisted me and my family towards my rehabilitation post release from captivity.’ 

Chirag Bahri, ISWAN’s South Asia Regional Director, said: ‘It is matter of great pride that Jakir is back again at sea, leaving behind all the bad memories and looking forward to a very bright future. He is an inspiration for thousands of seafarers that, after having gone through crisis, he stood up again and is confident to achieve his goals. We wish him all the success in his life.’

Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, added: ‘We are so pleased that Jakir can resume his career at sea and we wish all the best for his future career. However, a number seafarers held hostage by Somali pirates are still having problems getting back to sea. ISWAN is still supporting many of these seafarers. It is important that they are not forgotten.’

12 January 2018

A total of 180 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported to the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in 2017, according to the latest IMB report. This is the lowest annual number of incidents since 1995, when 188 reports were received.

In 2017, 136 vessels were boarded, while there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 vessels fired upon and six vessels hijacked. In 15 separate incidents, 91 crewmembers were taken hostage and 75 were kidnapped from their vessels in 13 other incidents. Three crewmembers were killed in 2017 and six injured. In 2016, a total of 191 incidents were reported, with 150 vessels boarded and 151 crewmembers taken hostage. Beyond the global figures, the report underlined several takeaways from the past year.

Persistent danger in the Gulf of Guinea

In 2017, there were 36 reported incidents with no vessels hijacked in this area and 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crewmembers in or around Nigerian waters. Globally, 16 vessels reported being fired upon – including seven in the Gulf of Guinea.

‘Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers. The Nigerian authorities have intervened in a number of incidents helping to prevent incidents from escalating,’ said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB.

Sentencing Somali pirates

Nine incidents were recorded off Somalia in 2017, up from two in 2016. In November, a container ship was attacked by armed pirates approximately 280 nautical miles east of Mogadishu. The pirates, unable to board the vessel due to the ship’s evasive manoeuvring fired two RPG rockets, both of which missed, before retreating.

Six Somali pirates were subsequently detained by European Union Naval Force, transferred to the Seychelles and charged with ‘committing an act of piracy’ where they face up to 30 years’ imprisonment, if convicted.

‘This dramatic incident, alongside our 2017 figures, demonstrates that Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to launch attacks against merchant vessels hundreds of miles from their coastline,’ said Mr Mukundan.

Mixed results in Southeast Asia

Indonesia recorded 43 incidents in 2017, down from 49 in 2016. The IMB report notes that Indonesian Marine Police patrols continue to be effective in the country’s 10 designated safe anchorages.

In the Philippines, however, the number of reported incidents has more than doubled, from 10 in 2016 to 22 in 2017. According to the report, the majority of these incidents were low-level attacks on anchored vessels, mainly at the ports of Manila and Batangas. Vessels underway off the Southern Philippines were boarded and crew kidnapped in the first quarter of 2017. However, alerts broadcast by the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC), on behalf of the Philippine authorities, have since helped to avoid further successful attacks.

Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN said: ‘Although the decrease in the number of attacks is welcome, piracy, kidnap, and armed robbery is still a live threat to many seafarers around the world. Governments still need to protect ships and seafarers and bring pirates and armed robbers to justice.’

The full report can be downloaded below.

20th December 2017

ISWAN’s Steps to Positive Mental Health for seafarers is now available in four additional languages and two infographics produced using extracts from the guide.

Steps to Positive Mental Health has been produced by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr. Pennie Blackburn with support from Shipowners’ Club. It contains skills, exercises and coping strategies to help seafarers deal with their emotions when they are experiencing stress or feeling low.

The guide, forming part of ISWAN’s Seafarers’ Health Information Programme (SHIP), has been translated from English into Filipino, Russian, Chinese and Arabic. These versions, in some of the languages most commonly spoken by seafarers, can all be accessed on the SeafarerHelp website (seafarerhelp.org). Additional translations of the guide in Hindi and Spanish will be available on the website in the New Year.

Two infographics have also been produced to highlight some of the advice and coping strategies found in Steps to Positive Mental Health. The first summarises key areas in which seafarers can take care of their mental health (Body, Achieve, Connect, Enjoy and Step Back), and the second explains a mindful breathing exercise to calm the mind and body during times of stress. The infographics can be found on the SeafarerHelp website or downloaded below.

Steps to Positive Mental Health is part of a series of Good Mental Health Guides produced with the support of Shipowners’ Club. More information on the other guide in this series, Psychological Wellbeing at Sea, can be found here.

18th December 2017

ISWAN’s free, multilingual 24/7 helpline for seafarers, SeafarerHelp, has been accredited with the Helplines Standard by Helplines Partnership.

The Helplines Standard is a nationally recognised quality standard which defines and accredits best practice in helpline work. SeafarerHelp is the first helpline operating on a global basis to achieve this accreditation. SeafarerHelp offers a confidential service to seafarers contacting from anywhere in the world at any time, providing assistance with issues such as health problems, family problems, abandonment, repatriation and unpaid wages as well as giving emotional support.

Ray Barker, ISWAN’s Head of Operations, said: ‘The accreditation from Helplines Partnership is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of the SeafarerHelp team who work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help seafarers and their families, all around the world.’

If you are a seafarer in need of assistance, all the contact details for SeafarerHelp can be found at seafarerhelp.org.

Working away from loved ones for long periods of time can be a lonely and isolating experience for seafarers, who can find themselves missing out on so much while they’re away. SeafarerHelp was contacted by a seafarer who had tragically lost his wife while he was on board and wanted to share his experience with us. Unfortunately he also recently lost his mother but was unable to attend her funeral as he was at sea. SeafarerHelp has supported him through this difficult experience. You can read his story in his own words below.

“We have just battled with hurricane Irma within the last few days... and I believe we seafarers always think of one thing: until when can I stop sailing? However, rough seas and bad weather are only few of the things we encounter. What about family matters? What about problems at home and not to mention, home sickness? What about loss of our loved ones?

At the age of 39 after being married for three years, my wife passed away during the time she gave birth on the eve of Christmas 2016 while I was on board. I want to share my how I handled (and still handling) this lowest downfall of my life.

Let me tell you how we met. She was so naive when I first saw her on Facebook (FB). She was into a failing relationship and I was coping with my breakup with previous girlfriend. I should say, the common link between us is her previous boyfriend and admittedly I contacted her to win their relationship back.

To cut this part shorter, her relationship with her ex-boyfriend didn’t work at all so during her curing stage, and mine as well, we started chatting thru Skype and FB (and Yahoo Messenger that time) and it all continued for over a year. In 2011, most of the ships are already starting to have an internet access but mine was using the old fashioned e-mail system. We communicated in my on-board stage still, and to avoid divulge of our precious “friendly” communication we devised our own language that worked for us. When we were asked what was that, we said it was combination of German and our own terminologies when in fact, it was just done with letter replacement. THERE WAS NO SINGLE DAY THAT WE NEVER COMMUNICATED.

She was 24, I was 36. She calls me Kuya (term of endearment for a big brother in Filipino) because she’s the eldest in the family and no Kuya at all; and I called her Sis. But the Kuya-Sis relationship flourished into something better in about one and a half year. This time, when I finally had her YES, I was assigned into another vessel with internet this time. Our email system became something more tangible, more real time, more realistic. Our communication became as often as five times at least in a day and summing them all up, around one hour spent in one single day. :)

I had my vacation that time and even when having vacation we were still having our relationship flourishing.... I am from Cavite (near Philippine capital Manila), she’s from Bacolod (somewhere in Visayas) and we're an hour away by plane. I decided to visit her, I met her family for the first time. They are all wonderful people, and my intuition of her being the perfect woman to be my wife became stronger despite my age.

Honestly I felt like I was running out of time so I decided to propose. Still, we were still away when we were fixing our wedding. I was onboard, she was still in Bacolod. When I had my vacation around 3 months before our wedding, it was the only time when we really spent together. However, my father was so ill that time so I had to leave Bacolod and attend to my father. (My father passed away a month after our wedding).

After getting married, I was assigned to my new company with 1MBPS shared connection so video calling thru FB worked well. We were granted with 2 hours time in a day that resets every GMT+00 so our 1 hour sometimes became the full two hours. That happened every day.

During vacation however, I always made it a point to get some bucks enjoying our lives together travelling. We went to various Philippine tourists spots: Sagada, Baguio, Pagudpud, Boracay, Negros’ Lakawon Island, Guimaras, and many more. We went to Singapore and let her experienced the cozy stay at Marina Bay Sands for an overnight. We went to Malaysia and stroll there for several days. We went flying with a parasail… and it made me so amazed the way she conquered her fear of heights only because she was with me. We also went hiking in Mt. Maculot.

We were so happy when she got pregnant on early 2016 while I was having my vacation. I left on September 2016 without having any clue that sooner, something life changing would take place. In her pregnancy we were still chatting. She’s showing me every kick made by the baby… when she feels vibration of fixed manner that we thought to be the baby doing hiccups, and even when the baby tries to change her position by persistently pushing one side of her tummy. I witnessed all those via video calling and some recorded videos. She would tell me “Hon, batiin mo muna si Baby oh… Nagwawala na naman, nagpapapansin.” (Honey, the baby wants you to say Hi to her. She's restless catching your attention). And she would stop after I greet her.

We celebrated our third anniversary on December 22, 2016. She asked me if she could go out with her mom who happened to be with her. She said she wants to take long walks because sooner our baby was on due (for birth) so she needed some effort to do strenuous activities for easier birth. She had a date with her Mom saying that would be the last time we’d celebrate with her “alone”, because next year, there will be three of us. After her date with Mom, I had my one final chat to her… the usual one full hour of chat. And we said goodbye without a clue, it was final.

December 23. When I woke up (I was in Brazil) she left me with an offline FB message “Hon, I think this is it. I had spotting so by the time you get this message, we’re in the hospital. Don’t worry, I will be fine. :) I’m so excited!”

In around my noontime at Brazil, I was informed by my mother in law… I already had my child and I am already a father. But my wife’s blood pressure was dropping. I never expected things would go wrong because as always, I trusted the Lord things won’t go wrong.

December 24, I asked them what was going on, they told me there was a condition called “Amniotic Fluid Embolism” taking place. I googled and I felt sudden rush of my blood to my head… It was really scary. Still, I mumbled, “Lord I trust you nothing bad will happen.”

My sister was asking if I could come home. My mother in law asked me too, if I could come home. It was when I thought something bad already happened… “Is my wife dead?” and had a very tragic “yes…”

I went home on Christmas Day with my wife in a casket. The over 24 hours of travel all the way from Brazil to Qatar (plus several hours of waiting) and finally to Manila; was the longest time of my life. I’d always think of nothing but be composed.

Nothing in her live looks resembled her appearance inside the casket. She was so pale, bloated, and the only thing I remember it was her was the shape of her forehead and her cute button nose...

We were almost perfect. We both lived a comfortable life. We travelled, we endured every moment of our lives together. We also endured moments of being together when we were physically away.

With her death, sometimes I have unanswered questions… but the mere fact I am alive is I am still loved. It is hard for me to confide because I always think everything every people will say to me, I already know them. I do not know God plans…. YET at least. But I do know He has plans. I am thankful though, that our child is healthy.

In every tear shed, in every mourning casted, in every burst of emotion; there is my wife up there hurting the most. That is why I always tell myself lessen my shedding of tears, mourning, and just continue life.

Being a seafarer is indeed a challenge. It would have been greater if it didn’t end up with her leaving me, but I am so confident that it has always been possible to be happy with it. I am happy though, because I have good memories to recall. I have good memories to tell to my child.”

If you are a seafarer going through a similar experience and need someone to talk to, you can contact SeafarerHelp at any time – all our contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org.