Enhancing Seafarer Welfare in the Maritime Industry


Enhancing Seafarer Welfare in the Maritime Industry

The Impact of MLC Amendments and OneHealth by VIKAND

 By John Prell, Assistant General Counsel

As a former seafarer, I have experienced first-hand the challenges seafarers endure in sustaining the maritime industry. Seafarers are the backbone of the maritime sector, playing a critical role in global trade. The recent amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) set to take effect on December 1, 2024, mark a significant milestone in recognizing and improving seafarer rights, particularly their well-being.    

These amendments, driven by lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, place a renewed focus on seafarer well-being, addressing key issues such as extended isolation and the crew change crises. These amendments come at a crucial time when seafaring, a profession already burdened by far higher suicide rates than most other careers, has become even more demanding, further underscoring the urgency of addressing seafarer well-being.   

In this article, I will discuss these pivotal amendments, their potential impact on the maritime industry, and how they can enhance the lives of seafarers. These changes highlight the industry's growing acknowledgment of the importance of seafarer well-being. They also present VIKAND with a unique opportunity to support seafarer health, safety, and welfare, especially in light of the growing importance of telehealth in addressing these challenges while aligning with evolving industry standards.   

Summary of the New Amendments 

The recent amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention encompass vital enhancements for seafarers. They ensure seafarers have access to high-quality meals and good quality drinking water, laying the foundation for healthier and more productive crews. These changes also mandate appropriately sized personal protective equipment, promoting gender equity and safety.   

Moreover, these amendments call for Member States to facilitate the prompt repatriation of abandoned seafarers, ensuring their safe return home, even if abandoned by shipowners. The amendments also emphasize swift disembarkation for seafarers in need of immediate medical care, ensuring access to onshore medical facilities and prioritizing their health and safety.   

To further foster seafarer well-being, shipowners should provide appropriate recreational facilities, amenities, and services, including social connectivity, recognizing the unique needs of seafarers who must live and work on ships. Furthermore, these changes ensure reasonable access to ship-to-shore communications and onboard internet, enhancing seafarer connectivity and their quality of life at sea. Member States should also now provide seafarers with access to the internet while at port, and at reasonable rates.    

They also enhance transparency in the maritime industry by requiring detailed reporting of seafarer deaths. Further, these amendments establish a mechanism to compensate seafarers for financial losses resulting from non-compliance with employment agreements, safeguarding their rights in the recruitment process.    

These changes underscore the industry's recognition of the significance of seafarers' well-being, emphasizing the urgent need to address seafarers' health and safety.    

Here is a link outlining the changes: Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended (MLC, 2006): Fourth Meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) - Part II (5 to 13 May 2022) (ilo.org).   

Addressing the Seafarer Mental Health Crisis 

The mental health crisis among seafarers has reached catastrophic levels – a silent epidemic that has long plagued our maritime industry. At sea, lives are on the line, but there remains no official accounting of the profound suffering seafarers endure. The urgency of this crisis is a pressing concern.    

Suicide rates among seafarers are disturbingly underreported, yet they constitute a significant, though often invisible, proportion of deaths at sea. Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, revealed in a recent Splash 24/7 article that this crisis affects seafarers at an alarming rate, with estimates suggesting that suicides are responsible for 5-12% of lives lost at sea. In light of this escalating crisis, and as the industry embarks on a profound journey with the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) Amendments, VIKAND is uniquely positioned to serve as a beacon of hope to seafarers grappling with the often-overlooked challenges of their profession.    

Specifically, our OneHealth by VIKAND solution is capable of assuming a pivotal role in safeguarding the health and safety of seafarers, particularly in light of the specific guidance outlined in Guideline B4.1.3(g). This guideline underscores the importance of promptly identifying seafarers in need of immediate medical attention when a tele-medical advisory service recommends treatment ashore. The adoption of such language within these amendments signifies the industry's forward-thinking stance on embracing telehealth platforms as an integral part of seafarer healthcare.   

Furthermore, the inclusion of Guideline B3.1.11 requiring reasonable access to ship-to-shore telephone communications and the recommendation that shipowners provide seafarers with internet access aligns with our telehealth services. As of this amendment, most ships will already have onboard internet access, further enhancing seafarer connectivity and well-being.   

The critical nature of telehealth in managing a ship's healthcare outcomes cannot be overstated, especially when healthcare options at sea are limited. In potentially life-threatening situations, the ability to connect with medical experts onshore is invaluable. Our services align well with these MLC Amendments because we ensure that each ship is fully equipped with a telehealth communication kit, including vital sign peripherals, to facilitate immediate access to telehealth consultations.   

Further, OneHealth by VIKAND is a proactive platform with comprehensive medical solutions, prominently featuring telehealth, and representing a holistic approach to promoting the health and happiness of both guests and crew members. These services are at the heart of our commitment to enhance holistic well-being, encompassing both physical and mental health. This multifaceted program offers a spectrum of invaluable support services, including a confidential 24/7 helpline tailored to the needs of crew members. Moreover, we have dedicated a Trust Person who specializes in addressing SASH (Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment) issues, ensuring a safe and supportive environment.   

VIKAND empowers shipboard officers, crew members, and office personnel to proactively identify signs of mental health issues and intervene at an early stage. Alongside this, we provide a wealth of resources and training to enhance mental health awareness. Additionally, our program includes self-help initiatives that are thoughtfully designed to bolster resilience, manage conditions like depression and stress, mitigate anxiety, and promote healthy sleep. This holistic approach forms a robust system of mental wellness support, aligning with our dedication to seafarer welfare.   

This shift towards telehealth platforms represents a fundamental change in how the industry perceives and responds to the healthcare needs of seafarers. It reflects a proactive approach to harnessing technology to enhance the well-being of those who work at sea. With OneHealth by VIKAND telehealth consultations, we can support seafarers with swift, expert medical care when it is needed most. Our commitment aligns seamlessly with the evolving industry standards and the overarching goal of prioritizing seafarer welfare.   

Maritime’s Mental Health Revolution is Here 

In conclusion, these amendments serve as a testament to the industry's growing recognition of the importance of seafarer well-being, especially in the wake of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seafarers are the lifeblood of the maritime sector, a critical cog in the global economy given that approximately 90% of goods are transported via merchant vessels.   

These changes offer the industry a unique opportunity to reinforce its commitment to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of seafarers. By embracing these positive changes and adapting our services accordingly, we align with evolving industry standards and underscore our commitment to seafarer care and support.   

The mission of OneHealth by VIKAND, deeply aligned with the MLC Amendments, centres around delivering comprehensive medical solutions to both passenger and commercial vessels.

We are not simply a healthcare provider; we are a lifeline for those who bear the weight of their profession's silent struggles. As we peer into the depths of the mental health crisis gripping our industry, it becomes abundantly clear that we have an opportunity to lead the way in addressing this issue.    

These amendments are the start of the journey to reshape the industry's approach to mental health at sea, making seafaring a profession where well-being is cherished as much as safety. Together, we can provide seafarers with the care, support, and hope they so desperately need.

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