Resilient by Nature: Addressing Seafarer Behavioral Health

2018 International Day of the Seafarer
Image: "Salty" by International Maritime Organization on Flickr.

Ninety percent of the world’s goods are transported across the oceans by 1.5 million seafarers. It’s a tough and dangerous job. Isolation, stress, and accidents are some of the hardships that come with the profession. On the extreme end, seafarers are at risk of violent crime, including piracy and kidnapping.

Being held hostage by pirates leads to lasting effects. Twenty-six percent of former hostages have symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder according to After the Release: The Long-Term Behavioral Impact of Piracy on Seafarers and Families, by Conor Seyle, director of OEF’s research program.  

“There is a lot of research which shows that untreated post-traumatic stress leads to poor workplace performance,” said Seyle in a recent interview with Oceans Deeply. “I think that the first major ship-owning group that really identifies this and effectively trains their crews to understand the risks and behavioral impacts – I predict that that will show an impact on their bottom line in terms of their efficiency or effectiveness.”

Seyle added that he believed that most shipping companies do provide support to seafarers who are held hostage and that welfare organizations like the Seamen’s Church Institute, the Sailors’ Society, the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme at [the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network] have created programs to address behavioral health issues.

Seafarers are resilient by nature, but these challenges can take their toll on their wellbeing. June 25th is observed by the International Maritime Organization and the United Nations as Day of the Seafarer. This year’s theme focuses on mental health through a social media campaign, entitled #SupportSeafarersWellBeing, that raises awareness about specific strategies and tools to tackle stress at sea. The hashtag can be used by those working in the shipping industry to show how they address mental health issues while working in a challenging environment.

Text by Jean-Pierre Larroque. 

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