Seafarer wellness is important. As simple as that may be, it can be quite complex. Earlier this month, we spoke with Jason Zuidema, executive Director at the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA), at CMA Shipping in Stamford, Connecticut.
During the interview he highlighted 3 key factors the NAMMA had noticed from their seafarers’ centres in ports around North America. Factors which could be impacting the social isolation on seafarers. We discussed whether there is a happy medium for connectivity on ships for seafarers, and whether social media can be anti-social.
"We've noticed crews are getting smaller, turnaround times in ports are decreasing - ships are coming and going much faster - and crews are more multi-national."
Read the interview below.
Roxy Kashfi: How is social isolation impacting the seafarers today?
Jason Zuidema: The North American Maritime Ministry Association has 50 members that run seafarers centres in ports around North America. The members from the seafarers centres will visit with seafarers each day, pick them up from their ships and try to help them in different ways. We've noticed crews are getting smaller, turnaround times in ports are decreasing - ships are coming and going much faster - and crews are more multi-national.
What that means is seafarers are living a little bit farther apart from each other while on board. Even though also they're very far away from their own families, I think there's many things that ship owners and ship managers can do to improve conditions for seafarers.
It is accepted that the industry is socially isolating, it's been that way forever. They (seafarers) are away from their families, they're far away from home and that's part of what shipping is, moving things around the world. Naturally, people are far away from the family, but ship owners and ship operators also know that they can do things to improve the welfare of seafarers.
Certainly, one of the things that seafarers frequently request is better access to the internet. If ship owners and operators could look at how they provide internet onboard, how that's being provided, who's providing it, the speeds, how seafarers can use it, I think it can be a very good thing. If seafarers want it, they can then connect with their families better. But one area where it is a bit more challenging is we're noted in the recent history of the maritime world there is less social interaction on board a ship. As the crews are bit smaller, and a bit more multi-national, they're perhaps not the same social bonds on board that there were perhaps a generation, or two, ago.
I think that's where more work can be done by not only ship owners and operators, but the whole maritime community. Moving forward, we need to think about what can be done to improve the social bonds and cohesion on board.
RK: To what extent do you believe that ship owners are responsible for providing connectivity on board vessels - so that the seafarers can contact their friends and families?
JZ: In the discussions of the maritime labour convention that was signed in 2006, part of me wishes that the internet had already been part of that equation but it was a little bit too early for those conversations. I think that seafarers are happy to bear some of the cost of it and it's not as if all seafarers want it to be high speed all the time, they aren't necessarily asking for that.
Though many ship owners do provide a certain amount of free high-speed internet regularly, it's more just having access or having access at reasonable rates. If a ship owner or operator provides internet but it's at costs that are just prohibitive to using it regularly, it's not much better than not providing it at all. I think there is a cost-effective the happy medium where they can provide something that is that is good for seafarers and they can deal with financially.
RK: You mentioned there seems to be a trend towards less social cohesion on board vessels, to what extent do you think Facebook and other social media platforms are impacting, and encouraging, that?
JZ: I have a perhaps somewhat of a different perspective on this. Sometimes I hear ship owners or others at industry events saying well because the internet or social media is perhaps anti-social as it is driving people apart, maybe we should limit the amount of internet? This is maybe having a bad effect.
My perspective is that this is not a seafarer problem as this is not a issue that only affects seafarers. This is a worldwide, societal problem about what the internet does to all of us. The fact that at a show like the CMA our cell phones are never more than an arm's length away from us, the internet has become connected us or inserted itself into all our lives. It's had a social impact on all of us, and so seafarers who are 20-23 are no different than anybody else in the same age group.
I think there are helpful conversations and helpful studies of other folks who are growing up with the internet. These would have similar learnings for the seafaring world and we're going to need to ask the broader social implication questions on a much wider scale than just among seafarers.