August 27, 2021

Covid-19 and the State of Seafarer Health

It is no secret that seafarers have faced some of the most challenging times during this pandemic and as the virus evolves, new logistical challenges continue to face shipowners and individual crewmembers alike.

To ensure both the physical and mental resilience of their crews shipowners continue to strengthen their medical support structures. To achieve this goal consultation with maritime medical experts is paramount. As the health partner to ship owners, managers and the International Group of P&I Clubs, Future Care has seen a 30% increase in service usage since the start of the pandemic.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions Future Care, an International SOS company, receive regarding Covid-19 within the maritime community.

 

Vaccinations

Arranging vaccinations still remain one of the highest priorities for ship operators. In order to protect seafarers from the threat of COVID they will continue to rely on the global resources of the Future Care International SOS partnership.

While a few countries have started offering vaccination for seafarers, skillful coordination often is required to vaccinate crewmembers around the world.

Extending the outreach of COVID vaccinations for seafarers

Future Care recently succeeded in meeting the challenge of coordinating vaccinations for a large tanker operator with 4 ships located at the Louisiana Offshore Port (LOOP).

Only accessible via a 45 minute helicopter ride, meticulous planning was required, which meant considering: location access issues, flight schedule and the pilot’s presence while the nurse was onsite. It also involved sourcing an available nurse from Future Care’s trusted provider network willing to travel the distance by helicopter. The nurse was safely transported to and from the platform and crewmembers were inoculated as scheduled and provided with CDC vaccination cards and later electronic proof of vaccination.

Short stays at port only provide a small window of opportunity to observe potential vaccination side effects upon the seafarer and Future Care ensure detailed audit trails, essential not only in organizing vaccinations but also ensuring the necessary vaccination monitoring and follow-up.

 

Mental wellbeing

Another highly talked about issue is mental health. Extended contracts and lack of shore leave have a cascading effect upon seafarers, causing fatigue and low confidence levels.

When suspicious deaths are considered, it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of deaths on ship are due to suicide.

Grace Ding, Senior Consultant at Workplace Options (WPO) China (a Future Care network provider), who provide mental health/structured counselling for mariners, says that “When a mariner reaches out for a physical wellbeing matter, they are sometimes also referred for structured counselling. In doing so, they may be more receptive to this type of therapy, as it could be seen to pass on the perceived stigma of having mental health issues”.

This view highlights the importance of an integrated approach to physical and mental health. When a client refers a refers a crewmember under such circumstances Future Care and WPO will assess the seafarer’s needs, looking at a combination of factors that include:

  • The state of their overall health
  • The amount of exercise carried out during a typical seven-day week
  • Average amount of hours sleep obtained
  • The regularity of feelings of anxiousness/ nervousness
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use

Mental health support for mariners needs to be easily accessible remotely and the coping strategies have to be relevant to the shipboard working environment and the general exigencies of life at sea, away from home and family. Responding to these challenges successfully is one of the reasons Future Care and WPO were recently nominated for a SAFETY4SEA award for their approach to seafarer mental health. Find out more here.

 

Emerging variants

Our understanding of Covid-19 has improved dramatically but as new variants emerge, ship owners and managers will be questioning the impact new variants could have upon their operations.

Dr Guillaume Pollet, Medical Director at International SOS, who leads on vaccination strategies for ship owners says that “As of today, despite the apparition of new variants, the main characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 remain similar in terms of transmission mode, symptoms and patient outcome. However due to differences in transmissibility and the main symptoms, precautions like vaccination, testing, quarantine and non-pharmaceutical intervention are needed more than ever, so while seafarers could become exposed to any of the different circulating variants, this should not influence the extent to which precautions are taken”.

He continues, saying that “our role at International SOS is to provide shipowners and managers with up-to-date, validated and accurate data to support them in making those difficult decisions and anticipate potential outcomes”.

 

Support the health of your crew

As COVID flare-ups continue and new variants pose a growing threat around the world it is as important now as at the start of the pandemic to have the expertise and global resources of Future Care and International SOS on your side. Ship owners, managers and their Clubs can continue to rely on us to provide experienced staff and support systems that understand the unique physical and mental health challenges of the working mariner.

To find out more about Future Care can assist in looking after your crew, contact us here.

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