19 May


Wellness at Sea - how Sailors' Society is supporting seafarers through the toughest of times

19 May, 2021

Calls to Sailors' Society's helpline have been increasing as we assist with Covid-related issues for seafarers across the globe. Read Jacob's* story and find out how we've been helping seafarers through these toughest of times:

Jacob*, 46, has been a seafarer for 23 years. During his latest contract this year, he requested permission to sign off early for the first time in his career, because of tensions on board ship.

Sailors’ Society gave him advice and support, helping him to get through the period leading up to his return home to his family in the Philippines.

The engineer said relationships with some of his crewmates started to break down when they began drinking illegally and making malicious comments about him. He started feeling anxious, losing sleep and became afraid that he would get into trouble.

“During the last year with Covid, it’s been really hard for us,” says seafarer Jacob.

"This is the first time this has happened to me, so I was shaken, because I wasn’t prepared for it,” he says.

“I didn’t want to fight – in our company four years ago, two guys fought another Filipino seafarer and hit him in the head with a metal bar, so I didn’t want to get involved in something like that and I had to call for help.”

Jacob reported the problem to his senior officer and then to the company’s office in Manila, who granted his request to return home a month early. A crewing manager put him in touch with Boet Van Schalkwyk, from Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea team.

Coronavirus restrictions meant Jacob couldn’t leave the ship until he reached a port which allowed seafarer transfers, so Johan called and messaged him to help keep his spirits up while he waited.

“Father Boet talked to me about how to handle my emotions. He gave me spiritual support and positive encouragement, which really helped me,” says Jacob.

Boet Van Schalkwyk, from Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea team, supported Jacob through the period leading up to his return home.

The engineer says the pandemic had a marked impact on the morale on board ship. Restrictions meant he wasn’t allowed shore leave for the five months he was at sea, and he knew others who weren’t able to set foot on dry land for a whole year.

“During the last year with Covid, it’s been really hard for us,” he says.

“You need to go outside and step on the earth, but when the ship goes into port you can’t go on shore because you’re a suspected covid patient, so you just look out the port hole.”

This was difficult for the 22 men cooped up on board the ship together. Jacob says life became very repetitive and anxiety set in.

“You can’t refresh your mind,” he says. “Every day you wake up, have coffee and breakfast, work, have coffee and lunch, work, have coffee and dinner, watch a movie you’ve already seen – everything’s the same.

“It’s easy to get angry. You have to be careful because small things or jokes can become difficult to handle and sometimes it’s easy to explode.”

He added that while his company sent around questionnaires for crew about their mental health, it wasn’t the same as talking to someone, and his phone conversations with Johan made a big difference:

“With a questionnaire, some people will try to answer correctly both others will play games with it because they think they can’t really help you online. You’re just answering yes or no questions.

“A voice call is really good because you can express yourself and the person who is helping you can tell if you’re answering correctly.”

Jacob has finally been able to fly home from Panama, and is now trying hard to arrange a new contract so that he can return to sea as soon as possible to continue supporting his wife and two children.

Coronavirus restrictions mean this could take longer than he hopes, but he considers it was worth it to protect his mental health and his career.

“I had to step away,” he says. “Father Boet helped me control my emotions so that I could finish the voyage without damaging myself or the ship.”

*Jacob’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

You can help us to give vital support to seafarers like Jacob in their time of need. Please give today at: sailors-society.org/give Thank you

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