Seafarers are continuing to pay a high price for the economic problems facing the global shipping industry, according to a new report from the International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN).
The annual report of the SeafarerHelp service run by ISWAN reveals that it dealt with a record number of 3,078 new cases involving 11,228 seafarers and their families in 2017 – a casework rise of 37% from 2016.
'A difficult year for the shipping industry means it was also a difficult year for many seafarers. The reality is that when the maritime industry needs to make cost savings, seafarers are often negatively affected.' Per Gullestrup, ISWAN chairman
The most frequent reason for contact was from seafarers seeking work – and the report suggests 'this could well be a reflection of the destabilised labour market'. ISWAN said it had also reported a number of cases in which crewing agencies have been making illegal charges to find work for seafarers.
'The number of seafarers coming to us seeking employment is an issue of concern and we are looking again at other ways to assist them,' it added.
Failure to pay wages was the second most common issue, accounting for 16% of all cases, while the number of cases involving abandonment of ships and crews more than doubled. 'This is an area of real cause for concern because it puts seafarers in extremely difficult situations that they have no control over and it is through no fault of their own,' the report states.
SeafarerHelp operates Nautilus 24/7, the Union's round-the-clock emergency helpline for members. So far this year, the service has been used by almost 200 members, with emotional support, fatigue, and bullying and harassment ranking as commonly reported issues, along with work-related organising and membership issues. In the nearly three years since it began N24/7 has assisted 825 members.
The ISWAN report notes that the shipping industry is starting to recognise the problems caused by social isolation, stress and fatigue – but warns that seafarers still seem reluctant to openly talk about these issues or identify themselves for fear of risking their employment.