Fatigue at Sea Should not be Ignored


Published Feb 7, 2017 11:34 PM by Fared Khan

The recent report, Project MARTHA published by Intermanager shows that fatigue at sea is a growing problem. The report highlights growing levels of fatigue, particularly among masters and watch keepers.

Fatigue at sea (both physical and mental) can impact judgement and therefore safety and can contribute to increased stress. This is a very serious issue which must be addressed and measures taken for it to be alleviated. 

Regulations, compliance and monitoring

The shipping industry has strict regulations in place that all shipowners and ship managers must comply with regarding work and rest hours. These regulations are only part of the story. Checks need to be in place to ensure that these regulations are being adhered to strictly by all seafarers at all times without any operational or commercial pressures, perceived or otherwise from all shore-based stakeholders.

At Wallem we have a dedicated cell (made up of several ex senior officers) for monitoring and supporting seafarers in planning and ensuring work rest hours are met. Responsibilities include: 
•    Working with charterers and owners to ensure that the ship complies with work/rest hour requirements
•    Supporting shipboard staff to plan work (schedules)
•    Taking steps to provide extra manpower when needed
•    Trending data on ship type, trade and available manpower to forecast work load and assist senior officers onboard to plan work schedules for ports with simultaneous operations (SIMPOS) such as loading cargo, bunkering , storing followed by short sea passages requiring tank cleaning. Support and guidance on SIMOPS ensures proper planning and proper work rest hours to mitigate risk. 

Importance of wellbeing, engagement and empowerment

Regulations and compliance are only a small part of the equation. Given what we know today about the effects of physical tiredness on the body and mind, it is imperative that companies have programs in place to ensure that seafarers’ wellbeing is top priority. 

We are committed to ensuring the wellbeing of Wallem seafarers. This commitment is formalized in our [email protected] program which was developed in conjunction with a clinical psychologist. The program addresses mental and emotional health and covers every aspect of wellbeing at sea, from stress management to healthy eating and the importance of quality sleep and exercise; as well as a positive working culture and behavior. 

Stress management and support due to any unacceptable bullying or harassment onboard is covered under our [email protected] program. 

Awareness on work-life balance at sea is a key aspect of our pre-joining safety briefings and training sessions and hard copies of the guide (in both English and Chinese) are available onboard for ready reference. The key to both these programs is that we are empowering our seafarers to take care of themselves and their health, while offering them our full support.  

We have a confidential email portal ([email protected]) that can be used without fear of bias or retribution. It goes to the highest level of management, with a clinical psychologist who is experienced with seafarers on consultation to address the more critical issues. We also extensively promote the support system from the industry to our seafarers such as the Sailor’s Society’s free Wellness At Sea App, an interactive way for seafarers to monitor their progress.

However, support should not stop with the seafarer themselves. It is critical that support is provided to the seafarers’ families too. At Wallem we are very grateful for the constant support provided to our seafarers’ families by the various chapters of the charitable organization Women of Wallem (WoW). Knowing that their families are well taken care of and have a strong support system in their absence can relieve a good deal of stress that seafarers are facing.

As well as support for health and wellbeing, I personally believe very strongly in the power of engagement. Seafarers who feel happy and engaged are essential to boost morale onboard. Our seafarers are provided with ample opportunities to upgrade their skills and training via our in-house training portal and events such as safety dinners onboard are regularly arranged to keep the crew motivated and unified towards the same goal – safe and efficient operations for themselves, the company and our customers.

Respect and commitment

While our crew is made up of a great mix of people from different cultural backgrounds, Wallem is the largest employer of Chinese seafarers outside of China. All Wallem seafarers are treated equally and with respect and not defined by nationality. Emphasis is put on the very simple concept of the “Wallem Professional Seafarer” who is expected to have a strong safety mindset and take pride in his/her commitment to Wallem and our customers. 

In turn, it is our commitment, along with the provision of a strong safety culture and secure living conditions which attracts seafarers to Wallem. Overtime is carefully monitored by the same cell that monitors work/rest hours, and we have measures in place to ensure that any seafarer showing signs of fatigue is not allowed to continue to work as they are risking endangering themselves, their colleagues, our owners assets’ and environment. 

Call for urgent action

Intermanger is calling for urgent industry action on the critical issue of the increasing stress and workload onboard. Wallem fully supports increased compliance in this area. The safety and wellbeing of all seafarers should be a top priority industry-wide.

This issue is not going to disappear. At Wallem, we are taking proactive steps to mitigate it and face it head on in every aspect of what we do from raising awareness, training, empowering our seafarers, embedding this into our Safety Management System and providing support required. We believe that this is something that every responsible employer of seafarers, shipowner and ship manager should do.  

This issue has to be addressed if we are to continue retaining professional high performing seafarers, attracting new seafarers and promoting this profession to the younger generation.

Captain Fared Khan is Marine Director for Wallem Ship Management

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.