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Maritime cadets attending a Sailors' Society Wellness at Sea conference were exhorted to embrace social cohesion over digital remoteness onboard, to meet the mental challenges of a sea career.
Former master and Indian Maritime University (IMU) campus director Captain Subroto Khan shared his experiences of life at sea on crude and chemical carriers of various sizes across the globe.
In his address to more than 1,600 cadets from 21 Indian and Sri Lanka maritime colleges – attending the first of the charity's 2022 global online wellness and mental health conference series – he urged trainees to ensure they did as much as possible themselves to become mentally prepared for their life onboard once graduating. That could mean embracing the routine of socialising within a multinational crew, keeping healthy with exercise, being aware of the dangers of fatigue, and learning how to recognise the tell-tale signs of stress 'creeping into your wellbeing'.
Capt Khan said some 'age old shipboard practices' now fading away, such as the 'smoke room culture' where crew met in the evenings to socialise in their leisure time, had traditionally helped to ensure mental wellbeing. They were now being replaced with more time alone as crew preferred to spend time on their electronic devices during their leisure.
'If we have a healthy culture to meet in the evenings over a card game or watch a movie together, I am quite convinced the issue of wellness will be of least concern on the ship. Yoga, meditation or spending time in the gym should [also] form an essential part of your routine at sea.
'Remember a happy ship is also a performing ship where people go out of the way to help each other beyond the call of duty, crossing boundaries of nationality and language.'
One digital initiative for socialising that Capt Khan approved of was Sailors' Society's 'peer-to-peer' support groups via WhatsApp.
'I would like to compliment the Sailors' Society on spearheading this unique initiative to start the peer-to-peer support groups on WhatsApp. This allows seafarers to share their experiences, good or bad, with friends and batch mates who may come up with simple solutions to complex problems.'
Capt Khan admitted that seafarers are now facing 'far more difficult times recently than what we faced a few decades back.
'When I joined, there were 64 people onboard. We had plenty of people to talk to or fall back on when troubled by any kind of stressful situations both personally or professionally. Today we have a handful of multi-national crew ranging between 15 to 20 persons, often not meeting each other for days. Stress of any kind, when not shared, can multiply if not dealt with [in a] timely [manner].'
Faster turnarounds and efficient ship operations might have led to happy shareholders but at the cost of the seafarer, with. studies showing the link between seafarer wellbeing and human error including the impact of fatigue, isolation and the overall maritime working environment, added Capt Khan.
'Seafarer wellbeing is a subject that has huge importance to all of us. The focus on wellbeing is as significant as any other aspect of ship operations and often has a direct impact on the safety performance of the vessel, which most companies are very sensitive about. A happy ship is very likely a safe ship.'
- Read all the Wellness at Sea India 2022 conference speaker addresses. The series was launched by Sailors' Society after a successful pilot in India.
Polling the horizon
Results of a Sailors' Society poll of cadets from Indian and Sri Lankan maritime colleges make for interesting reading.
Loneliness, stress, depression,and homesickness are among the biggest challenges the cadets attending the charity's Indian conference saw in their life ahead.
- 78% said that the treatment of seafarers was the most important factor when choosing a shipping company.
- 80% said technology and the ability to connect with family back home improved their relationships.
- 58% said their overwhelming fear was not getting a job at the end of their training
- 50% said they were in training for a life at sea for the financial benefits of their career, while nearly a third (30%) were doing this to support their families.
- 97% said wellbeing should be a mandatory element of maritime training