With calls and messages to its 24-hour helplines more than tripling last
year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International
Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) has had a unique
insight into the challenges faced by seafarers around the world.
ISWAN’s helpline team handled over 20,000 calls and messages from
seafarers and their families seeking help and support between April 2020 and
March 2021. The organisation’s 2020-21 Annual Review, highlights some of
the key issues seafarers have faced and how ISWAN has been able to help.
Almost a quarter of the cases handled by ISWAN over this period involved
financial or debt problems as seafarers the world over found themselves
unable to secure work at sea and families struggled to make ends meet. In
response to this crisis, through relief funds administered by ISWAN more than
US $272,000 in grants were awarded to those in desperate need.
Another particularly common issue was repatriation, as many seafarers and
maritime students found themselves stranded abroad due to travel
restrictions. With the help of ISWAN’s team in India, over 1,800 seafarers
were safely returned home. In the Philippines, around 2,000 crew members
left stranded in Manila, unable to get home due to the national lockdown,
received daily deliveries of food from ISWAN’s regional team.
ISWAN’s helplines, which include SeafarerHelp and Yacht Crew Help,
received twice the usual number of calls and messages relating to suicides or
suicidal thoughts in 2020-21, highlighting the significant mental stress
seafarers have been under and the need for increased mental health support
in the industry.
In its wider work, ISWAN has delivered 75 Maritime Mental Health Awareness
Training sessions to senior officers, shoreside staff, ratings, and those
interested in becoming Mental Wellbeing Champions. The training seeks to
equip participants with the necessary skills and confidence to recognise the
early signs of mental health problems and to initially respond to concerns
arising on board. ISWAN has also been trialling social engagement initiatives
with a number of shipping companies as part of its Social Interaction Matters
(SIM) project, which is due to enter its third phase soon.
ISWAN’s Chief Executive Officer Simon Grainge said: ‘In a year dominated by
the pandemic, ISWAN adapted well to the new working environment and
enthusiastically stepped up to meet the increased demands on its services
from seafarers as they struggled with their own challenges.
‘However, none of this has been achieved alone. ISWAN is enormously
grateful for the sustained commitment of its funders who have enabled our
work to continue, and our colleagues in the other maritime welfare
organisations that have collaborated so effectively with us. The pandemic has
yet to run its course and seafarers are still being asked to go above and
beyond the call of duty, so ISWAN will do the same – supporting them in the
best way we can.’