Seafarers UK Calls for Better Tracking of Seafarer Suicides

File image courtesy Clear Seas

Published Jul 3, 2020 1:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, the maritime welfare charity Seafarers UK called for better reporting on the rate of suicide at sea. According to the charity, the many recent reports of deaths involving seafarers stranded by the coronavirus shutdown demonstrate the longstanding shortage of reliable information about suicide on board.

With most crew changes halted due to coronavirus restrictions, thousands of seafarers are compelled to work beyond their contract end dates and have been denied access to seaports around the world. As a result, many seafarers’ medical conditions are going untreated, ship visits by port chaplains and welfare workers are severely restricted, and access to free communication with families and friends is often infrequent, Seafarers UK said.

The charity connects this ongoing crisis with a recent uptick in the number of seafarer suicides, including seafarers on idled cruise ships. But it says that to its knowledge, there is no reliable source of information about the true scale of the problem - and it appears that no one is counting. 

"I have been astonished to discover that there is no single source of data on how many seafarers have taken their own lives during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, alarmingly, it appears no one has been or is keeping an accurate global record of seafarer suicides," said Seafarers UK’s CEO, Catherine Spencer. "This may be because suicides do not result in claims handled by the P&I clubs that provide insurance for most merchant ship owners. But that picture also is unclear, as some suicides at sea may be being recorded erroneously as fatal accidents."

Spencer warned that the lack of knowledge about the rate and patterns of seafarer suicide make it difficult to provide targeted support for crewmembers and for the welfare organizations which support them. 

"I urge the International Labour Organization to consider what steps need to be taken, with regard to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, to ensure that all seafarer suicides are accurately identified, recorded and shared with organizations like Seafarers UK," said Spencer.