Seafarer Welfare Centers Set High Expectations
December is a big month for seafarers’ centers around North America. It is a special time to show visiting mariners a warm welcome by giving modest (but meaningful) gifts. Though nothing elaborate – a winter hat or something sweet – it is often enough to put a smile on the faces of seafarers far from their families on a cold winter night.
Seafarers coming to most North American ports are the lucky ones: in most ports there are great seafarers’ centers that give out these gifts – more than 72,000 last Christmas. However, there are some ports in North America and many more around the world that are not such welcome places to be. Because of quick turnaround times, increased paperwork and tighter security, seafarers don’t get a chance to take advantage of the free transportation, high-speed WiFi, or friendly human welcome offered by shore-based welfare groups.
A worrying trend was picked up in the most recent Seafarers’ Happiness Index, prepared by KVH Enterprises’ social media unit Crewtoo.
The Index shows some “worrying drops across a number of key areas of concern” with decreasing numbers in areas such as “general happiness, contact with home, access to shore leave, training, interaction and workload”.
The report is based on a series of 10 questions and associated comments, rated on a scale of 1-10. The overall happiness in this third iteration of the Index was 6.35, down 0.10 from the previous quarter. And as with other reports, the issue of Internet access for seafarers was stated as being pivotal to happiness. The report’s authors note that “The issue of Internet access, connectivity and Wi-Fi is seemingly one of the most prevalent and emotive affecting seafarers.” *
Limited access to the Internet is not only brought out in the findings of the Happiness Index. The recent Futurenautics Crew Connectivity 2015 Survey confirmed the major holes in connectivity, ranging from a low of 35% in the offshore sector with little or no access to the Internet to a high of 55% on bulk carriers. The report also noted that 4 out of 5 seafarers said Internet access was one of the most important factors in selecting a labor contract.
If Internet is not available on board, the only option is to find it during the brief hours while in port. This is a huge challenge in most ports: seafarers are often too far away from Internet cafes and transportation is expensive. So they mostly rely on whatever shore-based seafarers’ welfare centers are available. Many of these centers—certainly most in North America—focus on providing free transportation and Wi-Fi for all visiting mariners.
I take issue with the Crewtoo Seafarers’ Happiness Index on the question of welfare facilities. Its final question reads “How happy are you with welfare facilities when you are ashore?” Like the previous two reports, the answers have consistently made this the lowest rated question: this time, 5.7 out of 10. The question is not properly stated. Read in the natural sense, it seems that seafarers are giving seafarers’ centers an almost failing grade. However, the critique is more properly on the lack of seafarers’ centers in many ports, not on their presence.
A casual glance at this question suggests that seafarers’ centers are doing a poor job. The reality is exactly the opposite: it is precisely because there are so many great seafarers’ centers that do vigorous work that seafarers know what they are missing in other ports where they can’t go ashore or there is no seafarers’ center to visit. A conclusion of the report: “Seafarers in good companies, on certain vessel types and in some trades, are able to access Internet onboard, get ashore and visit shopping malls…Less fortunate seafarers have no connectivity or have to pay high prices for it, are rarely able to get ashore, and are often far from civilization. For these latter seafarers the facilities are hugely significant and important.”
Ship owners and managers need to address the lack of Internet connectivity onboard, and several companies are working to correct this problem. But the Happiness Index underlines why good seafarers’ centers are so important this Christmas season and throughout the year. More than a few seafarers would have to forego any communication with families they have not seen for months on end if not for the hard work and generosity of seafarers’ centers, and those of us in maritime ministry are more than happy to help make the holidays a bit more joyful by connecting families across the miles.
?* Crewtoo's parent company, KVH Enterprises, is a leading provider of satellite internet services to ship operators.
Courtesy North American Maritime Ministry Association.
The Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index is available at http://survey.crewtoo.com/happiness.
The Crew Connectivity Survey by Futurenautics is available at http://www.futurenautics.com/crewconn15.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.