5 July 2018

ISWAN’s Regional Director in India, Chirag Bahri, delivered a presentation on Seafarers’ Wellbeing at Sea at a seminar on women in shipping in Chandigarh, India.

The seminar, entitled ‘Inducting and Empowering Women in Maritime, Shipping and Associated Fields’, took place on 21 June 2018 and was organised by The Nautical Institute India North West (Chandigarh) Branch. The Chief Guest was Dr. Malini Shankar of the Directorate General of Shipping (pictured with Chirag) and the Guest of Honour was Sanjam Gupta, President of the Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) India. Delegates included senior members from the Company of Master Mariners of India, The Nautical Institute and the Merchant Navy Officers Association, along with the Additional Director General from the National Cadet Corps, senior trainers and retired senior decorated defence officers.

Attending as a guest speaker, Chirag spoke about ISWAN’s Regional Programme’s campaign to encourage Indian seafarers to join the shipping industry through registered crewing agencies. He also reported on the programme’s work around seafarers affected by piracy and emphasised the importance of supporting the mental wellbeing of seafarers.

Chirag informed delegates that ISWAN is committed to working towards increasing the number of women seafarers in shipping and empowering them by working closely with WISTA and other partners. He urged the representatives from the industry to mentor and guide aspiring seafarers to join shipping through proper channels, highlighting that it is the shipping industry’s moral responsibility to look after its own.

During his visit to Chandigarh, Chirag also visited the School of Higher Academic and Professional Education (SHAPE) Training Centre where he met seafarers undergoing post-sea courses. He gave a presentation on seafarers’ mental wellbeing, ISWAN’s work in India assisting seafarers and their families, and the importance of being prepared for piracy and other crises at sea. Citing ISWAN’s current campaign, he urged sailing staff to reach out to junior seafarers through social media and raise awareness of the risks of joining shipping through non-registered crewing agencies.

Chirag also gave an update on this campaign to senior management at Elegant Marine Services, who he met in Chandigarh, and introduced them to ISWAN’s Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers.

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9 July 2018

The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) has launched a third Good Mental Health Guide for Seafarers entitled Managing Stress and Sleeping Well at Sea.

Seafarers face unique challenges shared by few other professions – long periods away from home, living and working in the same place, adverse weather and even the risk of piracy. ISWAN’s new self-help guide, Managing Stress and Sleeping Well at Sea, aims to help seafarers understand stress and its effects, and offers practical strategies to recognise stress and cope effectively. A 15-minute audio relaxation exercise, which can be accessed online or downloaded here, is available to complement the guide. The exercise combines muscle relaxation with controlled breathing to help calm the body and mind in times of stress.

The new guidance also provides advice on how seafarers can manage fatigue at sea and get the most from their sleep. Factors such as rota management and crewing numbers may be largely outside of seafarers’ control, but seafarers can use the tips in Managing Stress and Sleeping Well at Sea to reduce their risk of fatigue and take care of their sleep health.

This guide is sponsored by the Shipowners’ Club and written by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Pennie Blackburn.

Managing Stress and Sleeping Well at Sea can be downloaded here.


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27 June 2018

On Day of the Seafarer on Monday, which this year focused on ‘Seafarers’ Wellbeing’, the ITF Seafarers’ Trust announced that it is launching a ground-breaking seafarer welfare training programme, and commissioning a new piece of research related to seafarers’ mental health.

‘MARI-WEL’ Professional Development Programme:

The ITF Seafarers’ Trust and the World Maritime University have partnered to create a new seafarer welfare training programme designed to equip maritime professionals with key skills and knowledge to support the welfare of seafarers.

The Maritime Welfare (MARI-WEL) Professional Development Programme is the first programme of its kind to deliver a comprehensive overview of the topics and issues that relate to seafarer welfare. It will be delivered as a distance learning course via an innovative online portal consisting of a series of videos, lectures, and activities – enabling participants to follow the programme from anywhere in the world. Covering three separate modules, the programme provides participants with flexibility to follow the course at their own speed, and offline if need be.

Led by world-leading experts in the field of seafarer rights, regulations, and welfare issues, the three modules cover the following areas:

Module 1: international regulations, conventions, codes, and seafarers’ rights
Module 2: psycho-social and occupational health relating to seafarers
Module 3: crew & resource management and land-based seafarer welfare

MARI-WEL is designed to meet the needs of anyone who works with or interacts with seafarers, both on board and onshore. This includes ship management companies, crewing agencies, port chaplains and welfare providers.

The first MARI-WEL programme will commence on 1 August. A limited number of scholarships will be available as well as potential discounts for multiple participants from the same organisation and/or applicants from smaller welfare organisations and charities. For a preview of the MARI-WEL programme and to register your interest, visit mariwel.wmu.se.

Supporting seafarers’ wellbeing with new research:

With a view to increasing understanding of the strains on seafarers’ mental health, the ITF Seafarers’ Trust has commissioned a piece of important new research with Yale University.

The project will examine risk factors associated with seafarers’ stress levels, depression and anxiety to reduce stigma around mental illness in shipping as well as the suffering of those affected. The ultimate goal is to identify factors in the sector that could be changed to reduce the risks and opportunities for intervention to prevent harm.

25 June 2018

Today is Day of the Seafarer, and this year’s theme is ‘Seafarers’ Wellbeing’. If a seafarer is feeling low or stressed or needs someone to talk to, SeafarerHelp is available day and night, all year round. Our team can provide a listening ear and emotional support, and help seafarers with their wellbeing at sea.

A seafarer e-mailed SeafarerHelp while he was at sea, wanting to talk confidentially with someone. He had been having relationship problems and was getting a divorce in a country where it was illegal. He said he had suffered emotional abuse from his wife for two years and although he was the one who had suggested the divorce, he was now feeling empty. He had lost his appetite and was only eating because he knew he needed to.

The seafarer was due to be on board for another five months and he was hiding how he felt from his crewmates. He said his parents were both dead and he was not close with his siblings back home. His wife would be keeping their apartment so he was also worried that he would have nowhere to go when he finished his contract.

Our SeafarerHelp team is trained in providing emotional support. They listened to the seafarer’s problems and helped him through a difficult time by suggesting ways to cope with the situation and generally giving a friendly non-judgemental ear. They suggested that he could try sharing his feelings with a crewmate, and asked what activities he enjoyed that could help him feel better while he was still on board. The team also provided links to ISWAN’s Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers and other seafarers’ health resources available on the SeafarerHelp website, which could help him manage his emotions and take care of his mental wellbeing.

The seafarer contacted SeafarerHelp six times over the space of two months. He later contacted the team to thank them for the time they had spent helping and supporting him. He had started a new hobby, creative writing, and was now looking for a place to stay when he finished his contract.

Our Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers, wellbeing infographics and audio relaxation exercise can be downloaded for free on the SeafarerHelp website. Visit www.seafarerhelp.org/health-well-being.

If you are a seafarer and need someone to talk to, you can contact SeafarerHelp at any time. Visit www.seafarerhelp.org for all the contact details you need. The helpline is free and confidential, and our team speaks a number of different languages.

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.

We joined forces with the International Maritime Organization in 2018 to run a photo competition in celebration of Day of the Seafarer.

Seafarers were invited to submit their best photographs showing a typical day at sea, whether at work, rest or play. The theme of 2018’s Day of the Seafarer on 25 June was ‘Seafarers’ Wellbeing’, so photos needed to reflect the theme hashtags #SupportSeafarersWellbeing and #GoodDayatSea.

The winners and highly commended entries can be viewed here.

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.

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