Annual review from international maritime charity highlights challenges faced by seafarers in 2022-23

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The latest annual report of ISWAN (International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network) covering the charity’s activities for the year to end March 2023, highlights that although the exceptional stresses experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic have eased, life remains extremely challenging for many seafarers.

ISWAN assisted 8,602 seafarers and family members of 98 nationalities (up from 90 in the previous year) in 2022-23 through its free, 24-hour helplines and humanitarian support provided by its international teams based in India and the Philippines.

The charity’s helplines experienced a 6% increase in new cases on the previous year. One of the main concerns raised to ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp helpline in 2022-23 was financial difficulties – contacts (calls and messages) relating to financial difficulties more than doubled compared to 2021-22, primarily due to grants programmes administered by ISWAN such as the Ukraine Crisis Support Fund.

A key group of issues reported by seafarers across ISWAN’s helplines in 2022-23 was abuse, bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence (ABHDV). SeafarerHelp saw a 13% increase in the number of contacts relating to these issues compared to the previous financial year. The proportion of contacts relating to ABHDV on ISWAN’s Yacht Crew Help helpline was higher than its counterpart, accounting for 16% of all issues raised by yacht crew in 2022-23 (compared to 2% of all issues raised to SeafarerHelp by seafarers in other industries). ISWAN’s data indicates that women seafarers are disproportionately affected by these issues.

Psychological health problems including stress and anxiety were among other prominent issues raised by seafarers to SeafarerHelp in 2022-23, along with the impact of working in areas affected by war or piracy attacks as ISWAN supported seafarers affected by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. On Yacht Crew Help, psychological health problems were the top issue raised by yacht crew, with crew frequently talking about the impact on their mental health of long working hours, lack of sleep, alcohol or drugs onboard, or difficulty fitting into the crew culture. Contractual issues also accounted for a high proportion of contacts to Yacht Crew Help, with enquiries relating to unpaid wages accounting for 11% of all issues raised.

The value of a dedicated helpline for crew is increasingly being recognised by employers – ISWAN now operates 19 helplines commissioned by companies to provide specific support to their crews. ISWAN also delivered 57 Maritime Mental Health Awareness training sessions to companies around the globe in 2022-23, and increased its network of members to 78 companies and organisations.
ISWAN’s Chief Executive Officer Simon Grainge said: ‘It has been another successful year for ISWAN, in which we have raised our profile, gained more members and provided consistent, quality services to seafarers and their families. As we move forward, we will continue to strengthen our relationships within the industry and collaborate and cooperate with our colleagues in the maritime welfare sector to ensure that seafarers get the services they need. Whatever we do, it is incumbent upon us to ensure we are at all times focused on the needs of seafarers.

‘As always, we are extremely grateful to our principal funders – ITF Seafarers’ Trust, The Seafarers’ Charity, The TK Foundation and Trafigura Foundation – and all our project partners and sponsors who provide us with the resources we need to support seafarers and their families around the world.’

The ISWAN 2022-23 Annual Review can be downloaded from the charity’s website.

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