Crew Mental Health Affects Ship Performance

Monday, August 21, 2006
The 'A' rated 65 million GT North of England P&I club has noted an increase in incidents involving crew members suffering from psychological problems at sea. In the latest issue of its loss-prevention newsletter 'Signals', the club suggests that growing fear of criminalization could now be a contributory factor.

According to North of England's risk-management manager Tony Baker, 'It is not clear what the main causes are, but family pressures and increasing anxiety about criminalization of seafarers are certainly possibilities. The symptoms are on the rise, ranging from mild anxiety attacks and depression to aggressive behaviour to fellow crewmembers and, more tragically, suicide.'

Factors also contributing to the worsening mental health of crewmembers are cited as increasing length of time spent away from home, reduced ability to get relieved from a ship and greater pressure to remain at sea longer and send more funds home.

'In the modern world of shipping, turnaround times in port are also much quicker and shore leave may be restricted by the authorities,' says Baker. 'This creates more work for both officers and crews and less opportunity to relax, resulting in greater fatigue and stress. But whatever the cause, mental illness must be taken extremely seriously, both to protect individual crewmembers but also their colleagues on board.'

North of England points out that true mental illness occurs independently of any physical ailment. Normally a difference in behaviour can be seen, ranging from just slightly unusual to completely abnormal, though the sufferer may not be aware of it.

However, the club says it is very difficult to diagnose mental illness in detail and all that can usually be done at sea is to recognize the condition, handle the situation correctly and deliver the patient into skilled hands at the earliest opportunity.

'Anyone who appears to deeply depressed or who talks of suicide should never be left alone,' warns Baker. 'In practice this can be difficult, but the crewmember should be confined to a cabin and remain their under supervision. The deck is a dangerous place and the ship's side may be a temptation.'

North of England says many crewmembers who are feeling stressed or anxious while at sea have found the Mission to Seafarers to be of great help (www.missiontoseafarers.org). It runs centres in over 100 ports and has representatives in some 200 other ports.

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