Keeping seafarers safe and well during the Covid-19 crisis

According to data from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), 80 per cent of incidents occurring at sea are due to human error, a term that does not tell the full story.

Poor mental health, fatigue, stress and other issues can affect seafarers during their daily work and these factors can be the difference between safe transit and a major incident.

At V.Group we understand that during challenging times, such as these where seafarers are away from their families and friends for extended periods of time, their mental health and wellbeing can suffer. Wellbeing is the holistic experience of positive health and it includes having good mental health, high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and ability to manage stress.

That is why this week, during World Mental Health Awareness Week we wanted to outline  some of the measures we have been taking to ensure that our seafarers’ stay healthy and reassured during these unprecedented times.

Supporting Crew Throughout Covid-19

We are committed to being a responsible Ship Manager and demonstrating a positive duty of care to our crew network. That’s why our dedicated V.Crew Support Centre provides crew with support via mobile, phone or email, as well as professional medical support and access to frequently asked questions resulting from Covid-19.

Collaborating with our medical advisors and customers we have also purchased Covid-19 rapid testing kits for vessels which are to be used by seafarers under strict medical guidance where symptoms develop, which we hope will minimise the risk of infection to you and your colleagues.

Enabling Crew Changes

Crew changes at ports are a vital part of maritime operations and essential to a seafarer’s wellbeing. We have been actively lobbying for the recognition and protection of seafarers during Covid-19. In March, CEO Graham Westgarth issued an open letter to the media calling for changes to legislation, allowing crew to disembark and join vessels despite ongoing global restrictions.

We have also been working closely with a number of industry stakeholders and  maritime organisations as an alliance to get seafarers recognised as key workers, enabling us to facilitate crew changes. To date, V.Ships has completed 2,889 changes across 353 vessels all over the world.

Bringing Crew Home

Our travel management arm Global Marine Travel, has been working around the clock to ensure that our crew can be repatriated wherever possible. GMT has also partnered with The International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) to bring together thee shipping industry’s crew travel requirements to produce enough volume for airlines to bring idle aircraft into operation and fly reliefs to the vessels and to bring our stranded seafarers home.

In April, we transported over 2,000 crew for one customer from the Bahamas back to various worldwide locations, and other repatriations are ongoing. We continue to use our close relationships with industry associations to obtain priority ticketing for seafarers by recognising marine fares.

Keeping Crew Connected

We recognise that crew internet access is an essential component in maintaining wellbeing through contact with family and friends. In April, SeaTec increased crew internet allowance at no extra cost for the majority of our vessels – a small token of appreciation for crew during a stressful and uncertain time.

Providing Continuous On Board Care

In 2019 we launched V.Care, a package of measures aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of seafarers. Through the programme, we offer an employee assistance hotline for seafarers working on board vessels we either manage or provide crew to. This service provides support to seafarers for any personal issues they may have through telephone and chat support from experienced counsellors. These services, which are free for the seafarer, are available 24/7 and are strictly confidential.

Our WellAtSea holistic wellness platform helps seafarers achieve optimal overall wellbeing through sustainable lifestyle change. This is achieved by encouraging and rewarding seafarers to improve their diets, physical exercise and social interactions with the use of target setting, creating competition and by offering modest rewards.

Encouraging Development with Training Solutions

Our training business, Marlins, has long championed mental health and wellbeing training solutions for seafarers. Offering flexible delivery, these courses equip crew with the skills they need to handle stress and anxiety and proactively manage their mental health.

In April, Marlins offered all seafarers free access to the Keeping Things in Perspective course, aimed at developing techniques crew can use to steer their inner dialogue in a positive and safe direction.

Seafarers also have free access to the Resilience eLearning programme which suggests strategies to help manage the pressures of lockdown. The course helps to understand how changes influence emotions and how a positive response can help to affect your mental wellbeing,

Focus on Nutrition and Healthy Living

By promoting good nutrition through our hospitality business Oceanic Catering, we have always encouraged our crew to maintain a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle while on board.

We are continuing to support crew through regular health and wellbeing updates, advice and guidance to chief cooks relating to good stock management, proper food safety, handling of fresh produce, personal safety practices and sanitation procedures on board as well as suggested use of PPE.

Senior Leader Engagement

Our senior leaders have made more than 350 calls to vessels in the last month, as part of an initiative to engage with crew across our entire fleet. The calls provide an opportunity to hear directly from our seafarers, and for crew to express concerns and suggest ways in which we can better support them during these challenging times. Information from each call is collated by our HSEQ team and shared with senior leaders for follow up.

Matt Dunlop, Group Director HSEQ & Technical, commented: “We know that in these unprecedented times life at sea can be incredibly challenging. But with the measures we have in place and the support we are offering to seafarers across the globe we are confident that seafarers can continue to conduct their on board duties whilst maintaining a high level of personal wellbeing. At V.Group, the welfare and wellbeing of all our people ashore and afloat remains our priority. From a business perspective, the main focus is contingency planning and business continuity. Keeping our ships safe and trading is solely dependant on our Crew and shore teams having positive mental wellbeing, this is our ongoing commitment and focus.”

To view our initiatives, please click here.