Human Rights at Sea Reviews ZS Wellness Think Tank Event

Credit: HRAS
Credit: HRAS

Published Feb 4, 2019 5:55 PM by Anastasia Papapetrou

On January 29, 2019, Human Rights at Sea attended the first ZS Wellness Think and Tank event at the Caledonia Club, London.

The mission of the Founder, Andrew Cowderoy, and his partners is: “to educate, train and prevent seafarers from running the risk of loss career or life and to educate the shipping industry to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to both physical and mental health,” as is explicitly stated at the website of the organization.

Cowderoy has underpinned the philosophy of ZS Wellness with eight of the U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development: Good Health and Well Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Sustainable Cities and Communities and Partnerships for the Goals.

This was the starting point of the inaugural event that took place at the Caledonian Club, where industry experts elaborated on the seafarers’ mental and physical well-being. Apart from the experts, a dynamic audience participated in this interactive procedure by discussing several initiatives and recommending solutions.

How the event unfolded

The ZS Wellness Think Tank was a collection of like-minded individuals whose focus is about shaping the future well-being of seafarers. To that end, a variety of industry experts shared their experience in the maritime working environment and suggested solutions for a better professional and personal futures for seafarers.

Training: Impact Crew

The first speaker was Karen Passman, the Founder of Impact Crew, a research-based training organization which aims at leading the maritime industry to be in accordance with being business leaders in the 21st century. Passman has worked with a focus on maritime industry since 2012. Impact Crew works both on board and ashore. It collaborates with companies at conferences and with boards. It conducts research, individually coaches masters and management, to name but a few stakeholders.

Recently, through conducting a survey regarding crew’s turnover in the superyacht sector, Impact Crew found out that the 50 percent out of 826 crew leave within one year. The reasons leading to such a high turnover vary between leadership styles of owners and management as well as levels of rotation and time off. Incidents of absence of team atmosphere, unprofessionalism of the crew and lack of respect of the Captain were stated as further reasons for turn-over, among others. Using an interactive game-play process, Passman suggested creative and inventive solutions to the audience. Her rationale was that when there is a problem, everyone has their share of responsibility, and only by working together can results can be achieved.

Along the same lines of thinking, Steve Cameron of CMD considered wellness at sea as a dynamic process of change and growth. Seafarers’ health both physical and mental should be seen as a means of productivity and safety on board. The focus should be on how one can measure welfare at sea.

To this end, 10 questions about welfare at sea had been formulated. For example:

How can fragmented activity affect an employee?
Do cultural differences cause difficulties on board?
What about bad relationships with colleagues on board?
Does decent accommodation and good quality food play a crucial role on crew’s welfare?

Other than these, the support of mental health and the investigation of reasons causing stress should also be examined. For all these reasons and attempting measuring the success of it, Cameron suggested that annual reports on wellness should be drafted.

Other suggestions provided by the attendees during a fruitful dialogue was the prevention of several diseases such as diabetes through good quality programs or qualitative training on board. Additionally, combating loneliness on board with socialization among the crew and internet access can be effective solutions. Another issue that should not be underestimated, is that of sexual discrimination and homophobia on board. It is further necessary that gender equality, and the rights arising from it, be promoted and protected.

Where does responsibility for wellness of seafarers lie?

The Think Tank event focused on the responsibility of colleges to train and equip future seafarers. Moreover, the need of providing them with mental health training was also stressed.

Mental health, as a management concept, was considered to be a long-term and continuing awareness process; one which still has a long way to go in order to acquire the correct level of wider public and commercial awareness. Thus, it appeared necessary that management on board must have the appropriate training regarding mental health issues.

It was also concerning that there is stigma about people having mental issues and that this may prevent someone from being hired. However, when discussing mental disorders, there must also be a distinction and hierarchy between them and what is considered normal stress in a role and how that manifests itself.

Further questions arose.

What happens when an employee on board takes medication?
Are they more inclined to have accidents?
What about personal health tests?

It was saddening to note that the U.K. shipping industry is behind in this sector, and it needs to do more. Unlike the U.K., it was noted that Germany, the Netherlands, as well as crew from the Philippines, require thorough personal health tests in order to go to sea in an employed role.

Expanding the issue of wellness of seafarers, one could also refer to suicides on board. According to the U.K. P&I Club, there is not a definition for suicide. However, suicide should also not be closely linked to every kind of mental health, as in this case, it could be too generally applied. The point was, that there is a long way in terms of interpretation from mental health issues to committing suicide, as everyone in the room agreed.

Training: Freedom Training and Consultancy

As highlighted, training and the acquiring of mental health awareness should be of vital importance when working on board. For this reason, Tracy Keane, the Executive Director of Freedom Training and Consultancy, presented the aims, objectives and learning outcomes of the organization.

The aims of the organization are to deliver mental health awareness, to encourage seafarers to share their mental health issues without being embarrassed for them and to provide them with the ability to identify possible issues regarding their colleagues.

Freedom Training and Consultancy supports people completing their course and provides a variety of training models suitable for maritime services, both at national and international level. On completion, the trainees have awareness of what mental health is, effective communication and an understanding of the myths and stereotypes around it. As Keane noted, one does not need to be a mental health expert in order to help someone. Sometimes talking and supporting them can be enough.

Lastly, the most valuable thing is, that due to the training more seafarers can confidently talk about their mental health and the factors that may affect it.

Sea Fatigue

Another interesting topic discussed, was Project MARTHA on sea fatigue, or otherwise put, how long it takes one to recharge one’s batteries? The findings of this conference have shown that fatigue can result in long -term physical and mental health issues.

In 2014, The Sailor’s Society established a holistic focus on the well-being of seafarers. This has to do with their physical well-being as well as their emotional, spiritual, social and intellectual well-being.

To name but a few of their successes: in 2018, they trained 5,830 seafarers, won the Sea Trade (Investment in People) and Safety at Sea Awards (Best Crew Welfare Programme) and they collaborated with the UK P&I for the promotion of their ‘Wellness at Sea’ program. They wish to include more elements in the future, namely, to establish a Wellness at Sea Institute and develop a program to reach 7,500 seafarers. It was also mentioned within the conference that there will be more opportunities for academic research in relation to those issues in the future.

Red Square Medical Maritime Medical Solutions

During the presentation of Red Square Medical's maritime mdical solutions, Liz Baugh presented the services of the organization, which includes training, telemedicine 24/7, health services and consultancy. The training includes among others, STCW onboard and emergency preparedness. Telemedicine provides 24/7 access worldwide to available experts of mental health and translation services. The health services include crew health, travel health planning, vaccinations and outbreak procedures.

The instance of malaria was cited. Baugh said that shipowners should know there is different medications (prophylaxis) for malaria. Normally, however, shipowners do not opt for the expensive solution and consequently, it is usually not the most effective one. The urgent need of awareness of such issues was therefore stressed. Health is a human right, and the maritime industry must invest on it as far as their seafarers are concerned.

Education: The Marine Society

Another interesting initiative was that of The Marine Society. With the program [email protected], they have started delivering maths, English and writing training in order to help the crew to develop their core educational abilities. The Society regards education as a means of helping the seafarers to acquire status and to boost them professionally so that they can develop from seafarers to officers in the future. They stated that they are looking forward to collaborating with both the commercial and charity sector as well. They suggested the creation of learning through apps, of teaching maritime language and maths and of making links with both seafarers and everyone who can provide such services.

Recruitment: Spinnaker Global

At the last session of the Think Tank conference, the field of recruitment and human resources in the maritime sector was introduced. Karen Waltham, the Managing Director of HR Consulting from Spinnaker Global presented the current state of the human resources industry in the maritime sector.

It was noted that the maritime human resources industry is 25 years behind any other field. Human resources has to do with each individual and the focus should be on them.

In a section called ‘Global Voices’ Waltham talked about the newly published U.K. Maritime Growth Study and Maritime in 2050. A saddening estimation was presented in the report: by 2030, eight million jobs across all commercial sectors will be lost due to the increased use of robotics. A successful human resources strategy is made from competitive salaries, opportunities, transparent and regular communications and a strong focus on employees’ welfare. Alongside this, according to Waltham, there must be investment in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and plans for the future are needed.

It was stressed that the problem in the maritime sector is that human resources is somehow undeveloped. However, it has increased visibility the last eight to 10 years, and this is promising. Besides, “even a subtle change is still a change,” as Waltham aptly remarked.

One therefore needs to think strategically for a successful human resources industry. There needs to be traditional ways of working as well as new opportunities. All these approaches can succeed through constant education and training, and the vital importance of this should be never forgotten. Managing people’s talent is crucial, and at the end of the day, nobody should forget that the core of the industry is the individual employee.

Closing Actions and Recommendations

To close, attendees and speakers were divided into teams of four to focus on the main ideas discussed and to provide a variety of recommendations regarding them.

It was suggested that seafarers have to be treated more as individuals, and not as numbers - that means having closer relations between the maritime companies and their crew. Companies should listen to crew’s concerns and be able to provide effective solutions as often as possible.

Alongside this, the issue of mental health and its problems should be approached differently. In 2019, there is no room for stigma regarding mental health. Anyone who faces such issues must have the ability to speak up about them and not be afraid of the consequences because of prejudice that exists.

Companies must think about better collaboration as the core route to success. Networking should be expanded. There is no need for working individually when “together” can be very effective.

As mentioned earlier, individual employees must be the center of this procedure. The vast majority of seafarers are let go after their contract ends. This means they live with insecurity, and this, of course, may cause mental health issues such as stress about their future employment, which can be linked to depression.

Maritime companies should therefore have longer employment contracts, as longer contracts mean better human resources facilities for the crew. Providing health insurance as standard is one suggestion. Health is an indisputable human right, and companies should invest more in it. Further, stability in the employee’s working environment can help them to be more calm and secure.


Human Rights at Sea was pleased to have been engaged in the first ZS Wellness Think Tank conference. The charity continues to independently observe the developments in seafarers' wellness projects and programs and the emerging provisions for better working environments at sea. This encompasses rights and protections in relation to better mental health awareness, support and an increasing workplace culture which moves away from stigmatization and isolation.

Anastasia Papapetrou is a Researcher & Intern at Human Rights at Sea.

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