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Survey: Rising Sense of Dissatisfaction May Lead to Seafarer Attrition

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Published Mar 28, 2022 12:28 AM by The Maritime Executive

In a webinar hosted by Ocean Technologies Group last week, the founder of the Seafarer Happiness Index warned that the industry may see higher attrition ahead because of rising discontent among mid-career seagoing professionals. The latest iteration of the index - for Q4 2021 - reveals a growing dissatisfaction with hours, workload, inflation-adjusted wages, and the level of respect accorded to seafarers. 

"There's a little bit of a ticking time bomb that we're finding within the happiness index responses. A lot of seafarers, and particularly seafarers of maybe more senior ranks . . . are definitely talking in negative terms about why they're at sea," said Steven Jones, the index's longtime editor. "They feel that there's a sense that the whole profession, the vocation of seafaring itself is a bit broken. They have broken sleep, they have broken systems to deal with. They feel broken themselves, and we have to try to respond to that and fix it."

A good share of the frustration is driven by pandemic-related policies. For many seafarers, shore leave is a thing of the past, and "they've almost given up on the concept of it." This takes much of the romance and appeal out of the seafaring life, and leaves crewmembers bottled up on board for months. 

"They feel locked down on the vessels. You know, we think that a few weeks here and there a month or so of being locked down was bad enough, but the seafarer's life is in essence a sense of that lockdown," said Jones. 

More recently, there are growing signs of tensions between Russian and Ukrainian seafarers because of the ongoing invasion. The sense of camaraderie that was seen in the early days of the war is eroding on many ships. 

"Things are getting worse by the day, tensions are rising on board," said Jones. "Unfortunately, that means that Russians and Ukrainians are struggling along with each other . . . whether it's Russians receiving propaganda about certain things, whether it's Ukrainians seeing and hearing the impact on their home, it's no wonder tensions on board are [rising]."

The rare bright spots amidst an otherwise gloomy onboard atmosphere have to do with connectivity: more of it for casual use and interaction with family, but also for online training. Crewmembers report positive experiences with onboard digital training offerings, and there is a big bonus in it: they can do the required work when they have off hours under way. This leaves them free to spend more of their time with their family when they get off the vessel.