Preventing sexual harassment and violence in the maritime industry was the focus of a recent unique cadet annual mental health day at The National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI).
Over 70 cadets attended the voluntary wellbeing event in January at the NMCI campus in Cork. The half-day programme had a lineup of speakers including James Chalk, a trustee from Safer Waves – a charity dedicated to responding to sexual violence at sea.
Mr Chalk outlined the help available from Safer Waves, including the Safer Waves Responders sessions run by the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC). The charity is also working with Devon and Cornwall police on a project to make it easier for seafarers to report sexual violence and preserve evidence while at sea. Nautilus is supporting the first phase of the crime reporting project with Safer Waves and the University of Winchester though a survey of seafarers' key experiences of trauma at sea (see for advice on dealing with discrimination and harassment).
Cadets at the NMCI wellbeing day were also introduced into the bystanders' intervention programme developed by University College Cork (UCC) to address issues of sexual misconduct and violence among student populations, which NMCI hopes to tailor for its maritime cadets.
The UCC bystanders' intervention programme aims to decrease the prevalence of sexual assault among adolescents and college students by educating would-be witnesses (bystanders) about sexual assault and promoting their willingness to intervene in risky situations only when safe to do so.
The NMCI wellbeing event also heard from a newly appointed sexual violence and harassment (ESVH) prevention officer Ciara Mulcahy Linehan. She was appointed by Munster Technological University (MTU). NMCI is a constituent college of MTU. She outlined her aims to change attitudes, cultures and beliefs through raising awareness around the issue of consent.
NMCI student counsellor Paul McCarthy said the wellbeing day was the second the college had held. Its particular focus this year on sexual misconduct was the result of a 'confluence of timings'. There was the publication of an Irish report indicating that three out of 10 women in Irish third level institutions experience sexual harassment or intimidation, which led to the appointment of sexual violence prevention officers in Ireland. A further motivation came from a high-profile international incident reported by a United States Merchant Navy cadet – the 'Hope Hicks(Midshipman X)' case – which highlighted the scale of discrimination towards female seafarers, who globally who make up 2% of the seafarer workforce.
In addition to the wellbeing day, the college also holds regular workshops on mental health, cognitive coping, and stress management, and has an anonymous portal for reporting inappropriate behaviour in order to support students.
Mr McCarthy acknowledged that harassment and discrimination was not the preserve of female seafarers adding: 'As a maritime college we have an ethical responsibility to make our students aware that a minority of trainees can face cases of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. We don't want to scare them of course, but most importantly, educate how we will support them if it does happen, and signpost them to the help available.'
Ireland's first solo transatlantic oarswoman, Dr Karen Weekes, rounded off the half-day programme with an inspirational talk on coping skills in the face of adversity and isolation.
This is NMCI's second wellbeing day for promoting mental health within the college and is likely to continue being an annual event.
Mr McCarthy said: 'We believe issues at sea unfortunately are not going to go away anytime soon, and we think there is merit in equipping our students with cognitive coping skills in the face of challenging time.
'As a counsellor in NMCI, I am aware professionally that bullying, harassment and sexual violence can be an issue at sea. I think the industry could do better to address it. To the best of my knowledge not many other maritime colleges have taken proactive steps to put something in place and this is something we are quite proud of in NMCI.'
- Nautilus organisers will be at The National Maritime College of Ireland campus during 20 March 2024. Cadet members can find out more and how to contact an organiser in advance on our Events section.