Amend the Maritime Labour Convention to make wellness training for seafarers mandatory

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The world’s 1.6 million seafarers transport 90 per cent of the goods we rely upon on a daily basis.

They can spend months away from home, risking violent storms, piracy and isolation.

This can be exacerbated by stress from work pressures and lack of rest, including long hours working shifts - and it's having a terrible impact on their mental health.

Sailors’ Society conducted a survey into seafarers’ mental health with Yale University. The results highlighted that more than a quarter of seafarers show signs of depression.

A previous study from the International Maritime Health journal showed that 5.9 per cent of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide and that this increases dramatically if probable suicides – seafarers going missing at sea under suspicious circumstances – are taken into account. To put this into context, less than one per cent of deaths in the United Kingdom in 2017 were recorded as suicide. 

Sandra Welch, Sailors’ Society’s deputy CEO, said, “These are shockingly high rates – and one suicide is one too many. The fact that six times as many deaths at sea are attributable to suicide highlights how urgent an issue mental health at sea is.

“That is why we are launching our Not On My Watch campaign and asking the International Labour Organization (ILO) to make wellness training a minimum requirement for seafarers to work on board a ship.”

The Maritime Labour Convention is an ILO convention which regulates living and working conditions for seafarers. It has been ratified by 92 member states, representing more than 91 per cent of the world merchant shipping fleet.

Aditya Giri, director of Humans at Sea and a former seafarer, has thrown his support behind the campaign by being the first person to sign the petition.

Aditya has personal experience of the devastating impact of depression at sea. He was sailing in the Atlantic Ocean when one of his crewmates jumped off the ship to his death. The crew, who had no idea their friend was depressed, searched everywhere for him and were devastated to find a suicide note in his cabin.

Aditya said: “I was in denial, disheartened at my core and shocked, to accept that a person who was making jokes and laughing with us a few hours earlier would take such a step. I fell into depression myself, burdened with one remorseful thought that clouded my mind at all times: could I have saved his life?

“This experience has helped me realise the importance of sharing your problems and asking your shipmates if they are facing any issues themselves. A simple acknowledgement could save someone’s life.”

Through its Wellness at Sea coaching programme and Crisis Response Network, Sailors’ Society is committed to improving the well-being of seafarers.

Sandra added, “Seafarers tell us that wellness training makes them more confident to handle the pressures of life at sea. If more seafarers are equipped with basic wellness training, they will be empowered to identify the signs of depression and know how to get help. 

“We believe this will have a significant impact on seafarers’ mental health and reduce the number of suicides at sea.”

Sources: Sailors’ Society/Yale survey, 2017; Iversen RT; The Mental Health of Seafarers, International Maritime Health. 2012.

Find out more about how you can say Not On My Watch to suicide and depression at sea: