In response to the global pandemic COVID-19, seafarers, men, and women who work on board ships are in a seriously vulnerable position. Seafarers are “key workers” and are the lifeblood of the world economy. Many seafarers around the world, are currently on vessels flagged in several countries that are facing difficulties related to crew changes. Isolation on a vessel is distinctly different from isolation on land.
The following are tips that are recommended for seafarers to get through this difficult time.
1. BALANCE YOUR TIME ON THE SHIP
Seafarers have developed special skills that people in the general population will have to learn in order to cope with the quarantine measures in response to the COVID-19 virus. Such as, the inability to circulate freely because you are on board a vessel or times when you do not see your close family for months on end as well as how to manage boredom by staying connected with people around you, remotely and through activities.
Dr Kate Thompson, a counseling psychologist, of the ISWAN network an organisation dedicated to promoting and supporting seafarers suggests that seafarers balance their time between (a) physical exercise; (b) quiet times; and (c) appropriate socializing bearing in mind the need for adequate social distancing at this time.
*Port Visitors, Chaplain, and welfare workers are available to talk (multilingual) by phone +442073232737 – please call the Seafarer helpline 24hrs per day on www.seafarerswelfare.org.
2. LIMIT HOW MUCH NEWS YOU ARE WATCHING
Being stuck on a ship during this period, by itself, is a very difficult situation. There are a myriad of news sources that are constantly providing updates and speculative articles as well as analysis. There is nothing inherently wrong with staying up to date but this may not help you feel calm. It is not a good idea to be threat focused but rather be focused on what we can do about it. By limiting the amount of time you spend watching the news, this helps to manage feelings of anxiety and panic. Restrict your consumption of seeking out the latest news on COVID-19 by selecting only credible news sources.
3. CONTACT YOUR FAMILY FREQUENTLY INSTEAD OF RUSHING HOME
It is normal to feel anxious and to want to go home straight to your family when there are threats of this kind, however, we have to be mindful of the dangers we can bring home with us.
Rushing home from being at sea might put your family at risk. Your families are, after all, the precise reason you went to sea, applying patience under these circumstances is very difficult. While it is against the natural tendency in us, it might be safer to check on your family remotely and as often as you can.
If you do rush home, please know that you may be quarantined in transit home as some seafarers have been shocked to realise. Many shipping companies purchase economical tickets which can include several stops in various countries currently implementing very strict measures including mandatory quarantine.
4. CONTINUE TO KEEP CLEAR RECORDS OF YOUR EMPLOYMENT
It always helps to keep accurate records including your Seafarers Employment Agreement (SEA). In this period, keeping accurate records of your salary and other entitlements cannot be understated. This protects you as well as your employer in the event of a later dispute and may be helpful in gaining future employment. It is a very worrying time and there are a lot of implications about the financial future in the aftermath of this pandemic.
If you are worried about securing a job in the future, please remember that seafarers are a necessity and will always be needed. This crisis will end, though it may take some months to do so and shipping companies will be looking for staff to return. Albeit not reassuring now, taking the long view might help to combat the short-term tension and panic, we are all experiencing at the moment.
If you feel you need legal advice as a seafarer, Mr Chevanev Charles and other participating lawyers are offering this service free of charge and is contactable by emailing [email protected] Further appointments may be set up if necessary. This service is available to Spanish and French speakers only by email.
5. IF YOU DO GET TO GO HOME PLEASE SELF-QUARANTINE
If you feel sick please call your local COVID hotline. Please remember that while you may feel strong and healthy you may still be an asymptomatic carrier.
This is a very difficult time and it is wise to draw on all the resources available to you. In the words of Franklyn D Roosevelt: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
Mr Chevanev Charles is an alumni of the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta. Mr Charles is a practicing lawyer and consultant who specializes in International Maritime law.