The serious dedication needed by seafarers operating a modern merchant ship as it travels the globe delivering world trade is reflected in the findings of a new survey conducted by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ) as part of its activities in support of this week’s Day of the Seafarer (June 25).
MAJ asked seafarers to rate their feelings before leaving home, on their first day at sea, at the beginning of a shift, and at the end of their contract.
Almost 58% of seafarers who took part in the survey reported feeling enthusiastic, happy and relieved to be heading off to work, although many (23.68%) were sad to be leaving their families. These levels of happiness remained high on their first day on board their vessel, while levels of sadness dropped significantly.
However, at the start of a working shift, almost half (47.37%) the seafarers reported feeling “vigilant” – reflecting the seriousness with which seafarers approach their roles onboard today’s high-tech, well-regulated ships.
The surveyed seafarers were largely relieved and happy at the end of their contract (over 70%) suggesting a high level of job satisfaction and pleasure in returning to their families, missing whom was said by almost ¼ of respondents to be their biggest source of stress while working away at sea.
Rear Admiral (ret’d) Peter Brady, Director General of the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, commented: “Today’s seafarers are a dedicated, highly-skilled workforce who make great personal sacrifices to pursue their careers at sea. Today, as we mark the international Day of the Seafarer, it is important to recognise these professional key-workers and to work together to ensure a ‘fair future for seafarers’.”
Seafarers taking part in the MAJ survey represented a variety of ranks and roles. The majority of respondents were serving on merchant vessels, a large number sailing on tankers, and the biggest proportion were 23 to 32 year olds. Many (68.42%) served at sea for between one and five months, with almost a quarter (23.68%) serving six to 10 months.
While just over 10% of the seafarers served on Jamaica-flagged vessels, the rest were employed within the international fleet. More than 81% of the participants said they worked between 8 and 12 hours a day, including breaks. And, not surprisingly, the vast majority (44.74%) reported that they spent their spare time sleeping or resting!
The survey did not reveal any significant levels of concern among those taking part. In fact, more than half (52.63%) were satisfied with their salary and benefits package, although a later question revealed that 68.42% felt that wage scales were in need of an overhaul.
All respondents reported good working relationships with fellow crew members onboard, but personality clashes was highlighted as a potential cause of stress, as was poor quality meals and limited access to the internet.
When identifying challenges they had encountered during their seafaring career, the respondents – 76% male – identified racism (23.68%) and bullying (15.79%) as the main issues they had experienced, while 10.53% reported loneliness. Sexual harassment was a problem for 2.63%.
However, despite these potentially serious matters, more than 60% considered their future to be in seafaring while a further 28.95% said it “maybe” was. Only 2.63% did not.
Wifi and internet access has been highlighted in numerous other industry surveys as being an important criteria for seafarer happiness. Of the crew members taking part in the MAJ survey, more than 90% said they had access to wifi or the internet while onboard and the majority (77.78%) reported that this was adequate or good. However, almost 20% felt their online access was “poor”.
The widespread effects of Covid-19 were highlighted in the survey. The majority of respondents felt the pandemic has affected them and their families, with 40% reporting they had been “extremely affected” while only 5.26% said they had been “unaffected”.
The Maritime Authority of Jamaica is a long-standing Council member of the International Maritime Organisation, which regulates international shipping. MAJ plays an active role in highlighting maritime matters within the wider Caribbean region and this was reflected in the fact that more than 70% of seafarers responding to the survey said they were aware of their rights as enshrined in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), with a further quarter “somewhat” aware.
Admiral Brady said: “We thank the seafarers who took part in our survey. The findings will now be shared with our industry partners and will help to inform Jamaica’s future maritime policies.”