Highlights from the Africa Wellness at Sea Maritime Schools' Conference

In a maritime industry first, cadets from colleges in South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Liberia and Mauritius joined industry experts at Sailors’ Society’s virtual Africa Wellness at Sea Maritime Schools’ Conference on September 21.

Designed exclusively for African maritime school students, this day featured top maritime industry and wellness experts, who spoke on a diverse range of current issues including being a seafarer in a time of war, diversity and women in maritime and staying mentally strong at sea.

The conferences are being offered as part of Wellness at Sea - the first holistic and custom-built global wellness programme that serves the needs of seafarers on every step of their maritime journey.

You can download the conference programme here.

"Thank you, I gained a lot of insight today. May you continue to host such spaces for cadets in the future, we feel seen"

2022 participant

of those polled said that they now felt more confident about discussing wellbeing with someone

of those polled said the conference had better prepared them for a future career at sea

of those polled said having internet access on board to connect with family back home was a top priority for them

of the cadets polled said that the treatment of seafarers was the most important factor when choosing a shipping company

of those polled thought wellbeing should be a mandatory element in maritime training

are among the biggest challenges the cadets saw in their life ahead

"The conference was so helpful, it made me confident. As a female cadet, I am now motivated and fuelled to dive into the maritime industry."

A 2022 participant

"Never give up on your dreams and aspirations, because you are an Afr I CAN."

Capt (Dr) ED Snyders

"Now I know that I am not alone in this career that I have chosen and that there are always people looking out for us. It gives me hope for the future."

A 2022 participant


"There aren't many initiatives like this for cadets and I thank you for giving us an opportunity like this to learn."

A 2022 participant

"Because of today’s conference, I can say I understand what mental health is, how to identify it and how to deal with it."

A 2022 participant

Inaugural Address:

The realities of life at sea and the importance of personal wellbeing
Capt (Dr) ED Snyders

Good day to all our cadets across the African continent, distinguished guests and our hosts from the Sailors’ Society.

What an honour and privilege to have been invited to say a few words at this extremely topical Wellness at Sea Conference.

It would be a futile exercise to lament about my own experiences at sea at your age, some 45 years ago, but to rather initiate a debate on diversity in a seagoing context.

Conflict, in a multicultural environment at sea, may have a debilitating effect on your wellbeing and work performance. If it goes unchecked, it may place the vessel and its crew in serious jeopardy.

My objective today is to analyse ourselves as individuals and to create a respectful understanding of our differences for the common good.

1. Introduction

Maritime transport is considered to be the backbone of inter-continental trade and, in all probability, the most important cog in our global economy. It is estimated that over 80% of international trade in goods is carried by only 74,000 vessels at sea.

In this regard you, as prospective seafarers, play an integral role in keeping the global economy going. The reality is that if there are no longer trading (merchant) vessels, manned by seafarers, we are all going to ‘freeze to death’ or ‘starve to death’. Just recently, this reality reared its ugly head when vessels were trapped in the Russia/Ukraine war zone and could not ship grain, among other produce, to countries in the developing world.

The 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report from the Baltic & International Maritime Conference (BIMCO) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) estimates that only 1.89 million seafarers, out of a total of 7,95 billion (0,02%) of the earth’s inhabitants, currently serve the world merchant fleet. It further reports a current shortfall of 26,240 STCW certified officers and warns that the maritime industry ‘must significantly increase training and recruitment levels if it is to avoid a serious shortage in the total supply of officers by 2026, i.e. an additional 89,510 officers are required, by 2026, to effectively operate the world merchant fleet’.

This implies that you have, in all probability, made a wise the career choice as there are lots of opportunity and prospects for employment in an industry that is robust and continuously evolving.

2. Setting the shipboard context

Merchant / Trading vessels are extremely complex and varied. They are purpose built, under the guidance of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), for the myriad of activities they shall be involved in during the vessel’s lifespan, not limited, bulk cargoes, containers, hydrocarbon gasses, harbour tugs, heavy lifts, liquid cargoes, pilot vessels, refrigerated cargoes, research vessels, salvage vessels, search & rescue vessels and seismic survey vessels.

Shipping is a highly structured industry and there are a number of international conventions, under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and other agencies of the United Nations (UN), dealing with, among others, safety (SOLAS), training (STCW) and managing the environment (MARPOL).

For this exercise we’ll concentrate on the more topical domain, viz. Liveware (seafarers). There is a train of thought, perhaps more so from a shipowner / investor side, that ‘seafarers are an unnecessary expense’ and it is not surprising that the idea of reduced crews and autonomous ships are gaining traction.

3. Realities of life at sea

Seafaring is, in all probability, one of the most challenging industries to serve in. Only persons with a strong body, mind and soul shall survive in this extremely unforgiving environment or the perils of the sea, viz.

  • Beaching/grounding/stranding,
  • Collisions,
  • Heavy/rough seas,
  • High winds (tropical Revolving Storms, e.g. Cordonazos, Cyclones, Hurricanes & Typhoons) and
  • Sinking.

Other challenges are:

  • Autonomous ships and its impact on crewing,
  • Piracy,
  • Rogue shipowners (not to be confused with Flags of Convenience (FOC’s) and
  • Sailing through war zones (Ukraine/Russia).
  1. Merchant vessel compositional domains

All merchant vessels have the same compositional domains, viz.

  • Software (technology),
  • Hardware (equipment),
  • Environment (internal and external) and
  • Liveware (human element)

and are managed at the support, operational or management level by shipboard staff.

4. The human element

Before we continue the discussion on the realities of sea life, it is perhaps prudent to briefly discuss our own human composition and complexities.

Simplistically we, as humans, comprise of three broad domains, viz.

  • Cognitive domain (Head). Our seat of thought and knowledge base.
  • Affective domain (Heart). Our seat of emotion (attitudes, opinions, values, etc.) and
  • Psycho-motor domain (Hand). Hand-eye co-ordination (skills, etc.).

As seafarers we are fairly well prepared, by our Maritime Education & Training Institutions (METI’s), to cope with shipboard life by maximising the cognitive (knowledge) and psycho-motor (skills) domains as required by, among others, the STCW Convention.

Rather disturbingly, training in the affective domain (soft skills) is omitted by STCW, and as a consequence METI’s during the formal preparation of seafarers. In addition, it may be perceived to be an extra, unwarranted cost to the shipowner and may erode their return on investment (ROI).

5. Realities of life at sea: Diversity

In addition, you shall have to diplomatically navigate other barriers to effective communication, which may lead to conflict an add to existing stress levels at sea, not limited to:

  • Cultural relativity, absolute value judgements made by one culture about another, e.g. having one/two children vs many children,
  • Ethno-centricity, viewing ourselves as the centre of the universe, viz. Afro-centric vs Euro-centric,
  • Generation gap,
  • Prejudice, a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
  • Racism, prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their belonging to a particular racial or ethnic group.
  • Stereotyping, i.e. one’s attitude and perceptions of others as belonging to or conforming to an unjustifiably, standardized or fixed mental picture and
  • Xenophobia, i.e. a dislike, or prejudice against, people from other countries.

The best way to minimise the above is via shipboard acculturation, i.e. to adapt to and adopt the shipboard (safety) culture soonest.

6. The Generations

You shall, in all probability, sail with fellow seafarers spanning differing generations, not limited to:

  • Baby boomers (born between 1944 and 1964),
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979),
  • Generation Y / Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) and
  • Generation Z / Snowflakes (born between 1995 and 2015) - Yourselves

Unfortunately, we do not have the time to interrogate the characteristics, behaviours and qualities of each of the generations. If we make a concerted effort to learn about and respect the cultural and generational differences of our fellow shipmates, we’re on a trajectory to minimise unnecessary conflict aboard the vessel. This invariably leads to happier, safer ships, increased levels of vigilance and efficiency which is of paramount importance to our personal wellbeing.

  • Realities of life at sea: Occupational hazards

This seafarer wellness intervention of the Sailors’ Society, initiated by Chaplain Johan Smith in 2011, are of utmost importance to seafarers all over the world. Seafarers, due to the nature of their calling, spend their existence on the fringes of greater society. Besides the normal perils of the sea (extreme / adverse weather caused by climate change) and other threats such as the advent of autonomous vessels, rogue shipowners (not to be confused with Flags of Convenience), modern day piracy and navigating through war zones, there are a myriad of occupational hazards associated with seafaring, not limited to,

  • anxiety (separation),
  • depression,
  • fatigue,
  • homesickness,
  • isolation and,
  • stress

which were exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Realities of sea life: Rewards

Despite the perhaps, gloomy picture painted above, the rewards of seafaring may be considered generous in terms of:

  • reasonable remuneration levels,
  • protracted leave,
  • opportunities to explore the world and
  • living a life that is not burdened with the restraints of life ashore,
  • among others,
  • commuting to and from work,
  • exorbitant levels of crime,
  • inequality,
  • abject poverty,
  • toxic levels of pollution,
  • social media addiction and
  • rising levels of unemployment.
  1. Conclusion: Finding support

One of the ways in which we manage our daily challenges and frustrations is to talk to our family, friends and work colleagues (shipmates). In the absence of the above, keep on record the support mechanisms offered by the Sailors’ Society. If all else fails, remember that there was a reason why you enlisted to become a seafarer.

Never give up on your dreams and aspirations, because you are an Afr I CAN.

Wishing you all the very best in your future endeavours and continue making us proud.


Capt (Dr) ED Snyders

Positive wellbeing for a rewarding seafaring career.

Ms Zamachonco Chonco

Acting Chief Executive Officer, South African Maritime Safety Authority

I would like to thank the Sailor’s Society for the invitation to participate in such an important event. Greetings to all the participants today.

Let me start by saying “We cannot speak of any country or continent's economy without consideration of its Maritime Operations and most important, the welfare and wellbeing of those that operate/work in the industry. Therefore, when I was asked to speak on this topic, I thought what an interesting and relevant topic given the challenges we have seen and some have experienced within the seafarer industry.

Whilst on the topic of challenges; as the Maritime community we need to be awoken to the risk that threatens seafaring as a career; and if we are to speak truth to the matters, the threats to seafaring careers have been around long before the Covid 19 pandemic came into the picture. We have noted that young people from developed States have long stopped considering a career at sea mainly due to the wide inland options available to them. Perhaps in the future, it will not just be the developed world that is affected but the rest of the world as technology and the internet becomes more easily accessible in developing and underdeveloped countries.

The generation of YouTube videos and social media is reluctant to leave these comforts and take up jobs at sea. This generation is used to instant communication which is currently not readily available at sea. Just a few years ago the industry faced the threat of piracy which also made a career at sea extremely risky. Just when we thought that challenge had been contained, the Covid-19 pandemic threw us a curve ball.

It is widely reported that about 400 000 seafarers were stuck on board and forced to work well beyond their contracted periods. They were unable to go home due to lockdown regimes that were imposed around the world. This resulted in many cases of mental health reported as seafarers struggled to cope with being at sea for extended periods whilst also worried about their family’s wellbeing. This surely got many seafarers and potential seafarers questioning if this was the right career for them.

Africa is a resource-rich continent. Ships criss-cross the oceans to load these resources destined for resource hungry destinations such as Europe, Asia, and the US. However, Africa remains a continent struggling with poverty and unemployment. Sadly, Africa also remains a spectator when it comes to ownership and manning of these ships. A career at sea remains highly attractive to Africans, offering salaries in much needed foreign currency. The job opportunities at sea have a potential of being a saviour to our unemployment problem. However, Africa as a market for seafaring remains largely untapped and lag-behind Asia and Europe.

There are many challenges that are faced by Africa when it comes to taking up opportunities presented by the blue economy. Chief amongst them is low level of tonnage registered under African Flags (if we exclude Liberia). This has proved a challenge in securing training berths for cadetship and creating seafaring jobs.

Ship owners are reluctant to offer training berths when they can get experienced seafarers somewhere else. Internationally, countries with a significant tonnage under their Flags are able to impose rules allowing for levels of manning that ensures that the Nationals are employed on board thus making sure cadetship programme is supported.

The Seafarer Workforce Report, published in 2021 by BIMCO and ICS, reports that 1.89 million seafarers are currently operating over 74,000 vessels in the global merchant fleet. The new report also highlights a current shortfall of 26,240 STCW certified officers, indicating that demand for seafarers in 2021 has outpaced supply. The report further warns that there is a risk of facing a shortfall of 89 510 officers in 2026 if status quo remains.

There is a significant improvement compared to the 2015 report. The report urges the industry to significantly increase training and recruitment levels if it is to avoid a serious shortage in 2026. This is an opportunity for the continent to raise its hand and become the new manning frontier for the shipping world and produce officers of high quality. It is very difficult to even estimate the number of African seafarers currently making up the 1.89 million seafaring workforce as information and statistics from the continent are not easily available. However, we can assume that we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to the potential of the continent as a supplier of seafarers. Our contribution statistically is currently negligible.

The revised African Maritime Charter speaks the right language when it comes to seafaring job creation and seafarer welfare however implementation by AU Member States seem to be slow.

Article 3 of the Revised African Maritime Charter reads: “Promoting the employment of seafarers, decent working conditions and training of seafarers.” And,

Article 8, reads: “Parties shall promote the securing of training berths and opportunities for African seafarers on African-owned vessels and on foreign-owned vessels.” And,

Article 38, reads: “States Parties further agree to harmonize, coordinate and cooperate in the implementation of measures to improve the lives and working conditions of seafarers and port employees within clearly defined national, regional and international framework.”

The challenge that we face as the continent is not just to get our young people interested in a career at sea. The next challenge is keeping those who are already at sea interested and ensuring longer careers by supporting them.

Seafarer welfare and wellbeing has never been so critical as in now. Seafaring working conditions have been getting more and more strenuous over the years. There are more regulations that the crew on board the vessels have to contend with. There have been many studies over the years trying to gauge the state of welfare of seafarers. A 2019 Yale survey commissioned by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust identified potentially dangerous levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide risk amongst seafarers.

According to the survey, factors associated with the feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts were (sampling a few items): lack of adequate training, an uncaring work environment (non-caring company culture), exposure to violence or threats of violence

Another research conducted by Cardiff University (modified in 2019) supported earlier concerns about seafarer welfare. the following were the factors pre-disposing seafarers to mental illness - isolation-loneliness (discrimination, boredom-lack of internet access, poor relations on board); Lack of shore leave (fatigue – exhaustion) and separation from family (spending long periods away from home)

These are the challenges that all of us from the IMO, ILO, Maritime Administration, ship owners, seafarers’ organisations and the welfare community need to tackle. It is also a challenge that the Maritime Administrations need to prioritise and come up with interventions.

Bringing to it home, in South Africa, we have seen an increase in the number of bullying and harassment cases reported both by our seafarers as well as foreign seafarers in our ports. There have also been cases of sexual harassment reported, mainly against women. As the South African Maritime Safety Authority, we have taken steps to pay more attention to our Seafarer Welfare Programme. The programme covers amongst others: mental health support; help desk support; bullying and harassment (education and support) and a programme on gender-based violence to be launched later this year

We encourage all maritime schools and manning organisations and shipping companies to adopt these programmes and develop policies that protect our seafarers, especially the new entrants and women as they are the most vulnerable. It is very important that education and awareness starts at the maritime schools and during inductions at manning organisations. When our cadet steps on board they must be equipped to deal with these challenges and are well aware of how to handle them, report cases and where to look for support.

In conclusion “If we want to ensure a bright future for Africa when it comes to seafaring, we need to take care and prioritise the wellbeing and welfare of seafarers. There will be no bright future without wellness and welfare.”

Thank you


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