Report Finds Bullying and Harassment on Danish Ships

Flag raising for Danish flag
File image courtesy Danish Maritime Authority

Published Oct 8, 2023 6:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Report Unearth Widespread Bullying and Harassment of Seafarers on Danish Ships

The Danish Ministry of Industry has acknowledged that Denmark’s merchant navy has challenges with harassment and bullying. Its conclusions draw on a report the ministry commissioned in the summer of 2022 following two lawsuits filed against Maersk Line, which claimed that the ocean carrier failed to protect US Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen from sexual assault.

At the time, the ministry ordered the Danish Maritime Authority to carry out a study of the working conditions on all ships flying the Danish flag. The Center for Maritime Health and Society (CMSS) at the University of Southern Denmark carried out the study on behalf of the Danish Maritime Authority.

Out of the 3470 seafarers who were surveyed for the study, approximately 17 percent responded to have experienced bullying aboard ships, while 11 percent reported to have been exposed to harassment. The perpetrator of bullying was in over half (60 percent) of the cases a colleague at the same level, while in 30 percent of the cases a senior officer, according to the study results released by CMSS last week.

Harassment and bullying were noted to take place on long-distance cargo ships and to a large extent affected young seafarers and seafarers with limited experience at sea.

At the same time, the results show that the incidents of bullying and harassment are linked to gender, race and cultural background. Indeed, cultural factors represent an important dynamic in the Danish shipping industry with majority of the seafarers being foreigners. With a total of 18,791 seafarers employed in Danish shipping, 61 percent are international seafarers.

Some of the other prominent causes of bullying and harassment include poor leadership. In this case, one respondent described a situation where some senior officers bend rules simply to pursue personal grudges. Subordinates may be told to perform random and sometimes unnecessary tasks.

“This is completely unacceptable and I am frankly surprised by the extent . . .  This is a serious problem that the industry partners need to address immediately. More must be done to ensure that seafarers on board Danish ships don’t have to fear harassment and bullying - neither on the basis of gender or ethnicity,” said the Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs, Morten Bødskov.