Cardiff-based Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) has just published a study on accommodation on cargo ships. The design of a ship critically impacts the working lives of seafarers in a number of ways, it says, such as the quality of rest, the level of restoration mariners can achieve in non-working hours and their mental well-being. Unfortunately, this is an area that is not on anybody’s radar in the industry, and a high degree of variability exists across ships.
Although one would expect to find that newer ships have better facilities, the study found deterioration in vessel standards in recent years- the newest vessels (built in the last five years) “generally provided poorer facilities/amenities/accommodation spaces than ships aged five to nine years old. The SIRC study, Seafarer Accommodation on Contemporary Cargo Ships, was funded by Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust, an independent charity.
As part of the study, 1533 serving seafarers completed SIRC questionnaires in English, Tagalog and Mandarin; the average age of the mariners was 33 years and two per cent of the respondents were women. Breakup by nationality: 39 per cent were Filipinos, 32 per cent Chinese, 15 per cent Indian and 12 per cent British, amongst others. Twenty-four per cent of these were senior officers, 42 per cent junior officers and 34 per cent ratings. Feedback was sought from all types of vessels, including bulk carriers, container ships, tankers and passenger ships- the average GRT was around 40,000 and average age of ship ten years. A third of these ships were built in Japan, about a quarter in China and about a seventh in South Korea.
About one in every seven seamen share cabins, the study showed, and nearly a quarter shared bathroom facilities. Almost a third of seafarers were dissatisfied with the size of their cabins and just over a third were unhappy with the amount of storage space available there. There were complaints that the crew had no control over their living environment- heat, light, noise and vibration. About a fifth of the respondents said that there was insufficient food on board, or poor to very poor quality food. A third felt that the food they were fed was unhealthy.
Alarmingly, 72 per cent of the seafarers canvassed reported work-related stress, 61 per cent complained of lack of recreational facilities, 45 per cent lack of space, 43 per cent lack of career progression, 42 per cent lack of training, 38 per cent job insecurity, 33 per cent lack of privacy, 22 per cent bullying and harassment and 19 per cent discrimination.
Sadly, just 12 per cent of the respondents reported free and unlimited Internet access availability on board, and a staggering 61 per cent reported that they had no Internet access available to them at all. All the rest said they were subject to time restricted access or charges or both- the average hourly charge for email access averaged about $11.89, SIRC says, which meant that on a nine-month contract, a seafarer has to cough up $3,210.30 if email is used for one hour per day.
Perhaps that is why almost all seafarers (97 per cent) carried their own mobile phones, even though coverage was available for approximately half of every month. Only 3 per cent said they had excess to telephone on the ship; the rest quoted restrictions because they needed the Captain’s permission (15 per cent), financial charges (53 per cent, the average hourly cost of the ship’s phone being $43.12) and lack of time.
Among other important findings of the SIRC study was widespread dissatisfaction when it came to job security and restrictions on shore leave- SIRC says that nearly 60 per cent of the respondents had spent just one week or less in port in the previous two months. And, unsurprisingly again, Filipino seafarers seemed to be most positive about their experience on board and the Chinese the most dissatisfied. Indian’s are somewhere in the middle.