UK publishes guidance to protect seafarer welfare

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on the mental health and wellbeing of seafarers. For this reason, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has compiled the new Marine Information Notice (MIN) 656 to boost understanding and provide mitigating strategies for organisations.

The guidance draws on the recently published Wellbeing at Sea guides, which provide practical advice for the optimal care of seafarers.

Workload, social interaction and shore leave have been identified as just some of the areas where the pandemic is being felt most keenly by seafarers, according to The Mission to Seafarers’ Quarterly Happiness Index. The same survey also reported feelings of being trapped, isolated, worried and desperate to return home to their families.

Katy Ware, Director of UK Maritime Services, stated:

It is important to prioritise the welfare of crews on board the ships; with the additional challenges of lockdown, their wellbeing and safety continues to be a top priority. Without seafarers, nothing moves in the world and we’ve led the way in our obligation to look after them – we’ll continue to do exactly that. The UK was the first to designate seafarers as key workers and we were the first to do mass repatriations, facilitated through our colleagues at the DfT

In addition, Maritime Minister Robert Courts, said that this new guidance from the MCA is another way the UK is challenging the sector to take action to ensure all seafarers are properly supported during this time.

Specific recommendations in the report include:

  • Provision of a variety of recreational and social opportunities, where possible and in line with COVID-19 restrictions.
    Opportunities to contact family and friends without cost and privacy concerns.
  • Internet access to allow seafarers to keep in touch with family and for entertainment.
  • Clear and frequent communications between ship owner and seafarer, to help reduce feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
  • Ensuring seafarers have sufficient rest to minimise the impact of fatigue and that shore leave is taken wherever possible.
  • Facilitating visits from port chaplains and other supportive organisations and access to welfare facilities, within the confines of COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Crews should be able to report concerns about employment, safety and wellbeing to high level management.
    Every effort should be maintained (while abiding by COVID-safe practices) to continue personal and professional development.
  • Industry and seafarers will need to adapt to changes to travel restrictions, emergence of new variants of the virus, vaccination programmes and infection control requirements, among other factors.
  • Throughout, the welfare of seafarers must be paramount, and the MCA will continue to support the industry.

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