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Seafarers UK CEO raises concerns about availability and reliability of crew suicide statistics

Seafarers UK CEO, Catherine Spencer, has raised public concerns about the availability and reliability of statistics concerning seafarer suicides at sea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release issued by the organisation on 3 July, and ahead of the 2020 Seafarer Awareness Week 6-12 July, the CEO highlighted the recent public reporting of seafarer suicides during the crew change crisis, but that no single source of reliable data appears currently available.

The press release highlighted that: “With most crew changes prevented due to coronavirus restrictions, thousands of seafarers are being compelled to work beyond their contract end dates and denied access ashore at ports on trade routes worldwide. As a result, many seafarers’ medical conditions are going untreated, ship visits by port chaplains and welfare workers are severely restricted, and access to free communication with families and friends is typically infrequent.”

Catherine said: “I have been astonished to discover that there is no single source of data on how many seafarers have taken their own lives during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, alarmingly, it appears no one has been or is keeping an accurate global record of seafarer suicides.”

“This may be because suicides do not result in claims handled by the P&I Clubs that provide insurance for most merchant ship owners. But that picture also is unclear, as some suicides at sea may be being recorded erroneously as fatal accidents. Unless we know the true extent of the problem, how can we target our support for seafarers and those working on the frontline to support seafarers’ welfare?”

Catherine continued: ‘I urge the International Labour Organization to consider what steps need to be taken, with regard to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, to ensure that all seafarer suicides are accurately identified, recorded and shared with organisations like Seafarers UK that fund a wide range of interventions and welfare services which support the wellbeing of seafarers and their families.’

Human Rights at Sea Comment

Suicides at sea should not happen in a modern shipping industry.  This is especially so with increasingly significant mental health support to crew provided to the management system by key platforms such as global and local welfare charities as well as owner, ship manager, insurance and union initiatives. The collation and collective sharing of data between all organisations, including the establishment of a single authoritative source in relation to this worrying trend, is now more pressing than ever.

The issue of availability of accurate reporting of seafarers issues was first highlighted by Human Rights at Sea in its long-read editorial on 29 March 2020 titled ‘COVID-19: Fact Suppression or Careless Under-reporting of Seafarer’s Struggles?‘ It has been followed up by numerous exposure articles including ‘Insight. Concerns of a Seafarer during COVID-19‘ on 8 April 2020, ‘Greater Access to PPE called for by concerned Seafarers‘ on 13 April 2020, ‘Seafarers continue to highlight their worries and concerns to Human Rights at Sea‘ on 21 April 2020, with those issues featured in the South China Morning Post article ‘‘’Prisoners at sea’: stuck on board cargo ships, crews find their mental well-being under threat‘” on 21 May 2020.

Source: Human Rights at Sea

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