Maritime charity Sailors’ Society is petitioning the International Labour Organization (ILO) to make wellness training for seafarers mandatory in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
The petition is a key part of the charity’s Not On My Watch campaign to combat suicide and depression at sea. The campaign is also calling on maritime companies to donate to the charity’s work with seafarers struggling with depression and to run wellness training for their staff.
More than a quarter of seafarers suffer from depression and nearly six per cent of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide, increasing 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 to make wellness training a minimum requirement for seafarers to work on board a ship.”
The MLC 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.
Sailors’ Society is committed to maintaining and furthering the health and well-being of seafarers and launched Wellness at Sea in 2015. Its new website, www.wellnessatsea.org helps provide companies with the tools to combat fatigue, poor mental health, stress and other issues that affect seafarers in their daily lives.
More than 4,000 seafarers have undertaken the training, which explores five different aspects of a seafarer’s life: social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual; empowering them to look after their own well-being, helping them protect themselves and their crewmates against depression.
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.”