ICS publishes landmark medical guide, to improve the lives of seafarers and fishers at sea


Given the remote nature of shipping, seafarers know that their life may sometimes depend on at-hand practical information readily available during the first crucial moments after an on board medical emergency arises. Medical guidance covering illness, injuries and other health issues needs to be readily available as a vital aid to saving lives, in fact, international regulations call for a medical guide to be carried on commercial ships that do not have a doctor on board, which includes most merchant ships in operation.

Recognising this need, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has published the International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers, in collaboration with the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The medical guide’s content has been created by an international team of maritime medical experts that ICS called on to provide the latest medical knowledge on all injuries, illnesses, and health issues experienced on ships and fishing vessels. All members of the guide’s technical review group dedicated themselves to creating a medical guide that could improve seafarers’ working conditions and make a remarkable difference in seafarers’ and fishers’ lives while on board vessels.

“Seafarers are among the most isolated people on earth when it comes to medical care and we should do everything possible to help them and assist them,” says Dr Robert Verbist, president of the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA).

The ICS medical guide consists of: the main medical guide, featuring the latest medical knowledge with clear and practical explanations of procedures throughout; a ship’s medicine chest detailing the medicines and equipment that should be carried on board, and 10 action cards that can be removed and carried anywhere on the ship to immediately assess an emergency medical situation.

The guide features an easy-to-use format for a non-medical professional to navigate and apply in a medical situation, by way of 3D visual aids, tables, charts, and assessments to help crew follow procedures correctly.

In developing this medical guide, ICS emphasised the importance of presenting the information in terminology that can be understood internationally due to the many nationalities that make up modern seafaring, and including the latest medicines that can be sourced in all regions of the world. Dr Robert Verbist, says: “This guide was reviewed by an international group of maritime medical specialists to ensure the language and terminology are international. Anything being done to improve the health care of seafarers must be done in a multinational context.”

Intended to accelerate the provision of medical care at the place where it happens, the International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers also solves a problem for ships sailing under flags who do not have a national guide. It includes new dedicated chapters on assessing and treating mental health issues, seasickness and how to communicate with telemedical services.

“We recognised the urgent need for updated medical information and this was highlighted when we saw the overwhelming and positive response to the medical materials we published during COVID-19,” says Natalie Shaw, MBE, director of employment affairs at the International Chamber of Shipping, referring to the extensive resources published by ICS to explain practices to protect seafarer health during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Having established relationships with medical experts for many years, we undertook the extensive process of producing a completely new, comprehensive, and practical guide covering all medical situations that would provide modern medical support for crew and for shipping companies.”

The International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers, is priced at £225 and is available in print and digital ebook. More information can be found on the ICS Publications website: https://publications.ics-shipping.org.