The importance of giving seafarers a voice was a key discussion point at the recent Bahamas Shipowners Association (BSA) Crewing in Crisis forum.
The panel discussion, which saw a number of industry leaders participate, was moderated by V.Ships MD John Adams – chair of the BSA and vice chair of the International Chamber of Shipping – and focused on a range of issues which have impacted crewing and the sustainability of the wider maritime industry.
The session kicked off with a look at the mental wellbeing of seafarers in the current climate. Stephen Cotton, Secretary General of the ITF, the largest seafarers’ union, noted that there is still a fear among seafarers of being blacklisted by crewing providers and shipping organisations should they speak up about being mentally and physically exhausted. The need to drive cultural change in this area was discussed, to ensure the ongoing wellbeing and safety of crews particularly during the challenging circumstances that COVID-19 has presented.
Continuing the seafarer wellbeing theme, Guy Platten, Secretary General of the ICS, talked about the internal focus by countries in addressing the needs of their own nationals throughout COVID-19, resulting in the global seafarer community ending up as collateral damage when crew changes became impossible due to port restrictions and travel bans. Longer term, this could lead to the economic coverage of shipping being placed in jeopardy unless a solution is found to the crew change crisis.
Dwain Hutchison, MD and CEO of the Bahamas Maritime Authority and representative to the IMO, progressed the conversation to the logistical support offered by the various Bahamas shipping organisations throughout the COVID-19 crisis to date. While ship to ship transfers were permitted in the Bahamas, helping to facilitate the repatriation of 30,000 seafarers, Dwain acknowledged that greater collaboration is needed to speed up the decision-making process, particularly when it comes to gaining permission from the end state during crew repatriations. Ultimately, all players have the same goal, which is to ensure that the industry plays its part in combatting the crisis and making a robust recovery.
Claes Berglund, Director of Public Affairs and Sustainability at Stena and President of ECSA, commented that the maritime industry cannot survive without a strong level of confidence. Key to industry confidence is crew engagement, to ensure that physical and mental wellbeing is always a priority. The panel discussed a range of initiatives undertaken by each member’s organisation, including calls to vessels by V.Ships’ management in order maintain dialogue with seafarers, and the importance of engaging with families.
The session generated questions from viewers on the future of crewing operations post COVID-19, resulting in a lively panel debate. Anders Brodje, manager of the BSA who organised the event, was delighted at the level of interaction from members and guests: “This forum aimed to address a number of issues within crewing that have been highlighted as a result of COVID-19. The session was an opportunity to discuss potential solutions to various challenges among an influential panel of experts.”
Reflecting on the forum, moderator John Adams is optimistic that the maritime industry will drive change: “Perhaps one positive emerging out all of it, is recognising we have the opportunity to reframe the way we look after and support our crew, and the way we do business. I hope that our discussion will have a positive impact on the wider maritime industry, leading to a change in perception of the critical services that seafarers provide.”