A lack of reliable data about seafarer suicides during the pandemic crew change crisis has been highlighted by Seafarers UK at the beginning of Seafarers Awareness Week, with a call for the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to be improved for recording deaths at sea.
During the global pandemic many seafarers' medical conditions are going untreated; ship visits by port chaplains and welfare workers are severely restricted; and access to free communication with families and friends is typically infrequent.
Seafarers UK's chief executive officer Catherine Spencer said: 'I have been astonished to discover that there is no single source of data on how many seafarers have taken their own lives during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, alarmingly, it appears no one has been or is keeping an accurate global record of seafarer suicides.'
This could be because suicides do not result in claims handled by the P&I Clubs that provide insurance for most merchant ship owners, said Ms Spencer, adding that 'even that picture is unclear, as some suicides at sea may be being recorded erroneously as fatal accidents.
'Unless we know the true extent of the problem, how can we target our support for seafarers and those working on the frontline to support seafarers' welfare?'
Ms Spencer said: 'I urge the International Labour Organization to consider what steps need to be taken, with regard to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, to ensure that all seafarer suicides are accurately identified, recorded and shared with organisations like Seafarers UK that fund a wide range of interventions and welfare services which support the wellbeing of seafarers and their families.'
Maritime welfare charities – many funded by Seafarers UK – strive to improve the mental health of seafarers on merchant vessels, by providing helpful sources of information and advice and in some cases pastoral support and someone to talk through their problems.
At the end of March, Seafarers UK released £100,000 to deal with some immediate welfare impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on global maritime communities.
Even as some countries lift holiday travel restrictions for their citizens, many crew changes are still prevented, which means thousands of seafarers are compelled to work beyond their contract end dates and denied access ashore at ports worldwide.
The UK Government is due to hold a summit on the crew change issue on 9 July.
Ships captains have been urged by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to sound their horns on 8 July in solidarity for a resolution for the crew change crisis.