“So what if I joke about it? We’re sailors, for goodness’ sake! It’s a tough job, live with it!”

The ‘toughen up’ mentality has dismissed incidents of harassment and bullying as part of seafarers’ job. While efforts have been made to change this, we can’t deny that harassment and bullying remain a problem.

In fact, these inappropriate behaviours are big factors in the ‘silent pandemic’ of mental health issues.

In Q2 2023, 16% of seafarers who raised mental health challenges in the helplines of the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) were experiencing harassment and bullying.

While seafaring is known for its resilience and toughness, that doesn’t mean harassment and bullying should be accepted as part of the package.

We are all accountable – shipside or shoreside – for safeguarding the well-being of seafarers regardless of their gender, race, cultural background, age, or rank.

Embrace a ‘buddy’ culture

The blurry boundaries between work and private life, the high workload, and the often-hierarchical culture on board create an environment conducive to harassment and bullying.

These unwanted behaviours chip away at the victims’ motivation, job performance, and mental health. Even safety, both physical and psychological, becomes compromised as victims may be forced to work close to the perpetrators for extended periods.

Here’s the thing: Reports of harassment and bullying are on the rise, and these are not just numbers but real-life experiences of seafarers calling for a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace.

In an industry that is already facing challenges in recruiting and retaining seafarers, the need to create a positive workplace is now more crucial than ever before.

By creating a ‘buddy culture’ and eliminating a ‘bully culture’, you become an ally to your colleagues. You create a harmonious and safe workplace that attracts and retains seafarers. Now we understand this isn’t an overnight feat, so below, we’ll be giving you practical tips and tools that you can implement.

It’s a collective responsibility

Addressing harassment and bullying is a shared commitment and responsibility – and it is not solely about policies but about collective action. Your role matters.

If you are an office staff: Implement clear zero-tolerance policies, provide training, establish confidential reporting systems, and support victims.

If you are a senior officer: Familiarise yourself with the company procedures and recommendatory guidelines. Explore the Harassment and Bullying and Mental Health Awareness packages in the Safety Delta Learning Library (SDLL) to learn more about dealing with complaints and ensure an ongoing dialogue about mental health. Champion a culture of respect, empathy, and inclusion, and set a good example.

Did you know?

Data from ISWAN’s helplines show that the number of seafarers reporting harassment and bullying increased by almost 50% in Q1 2023 compared to the previous quarter. The majority of these cases are related to abusive or bullying behaviours by senior officers.

If you’re wondering whether you’re unintentionally crossing the line: Pause and reflect. Are your words or actions making someone uncomfortable? It’s on all of us to check ourselves and support each other.

If you are the alleged harasser or bully: Understand how the other person might feel. In moments of conflict, control your emotions instead of letting them dictate your actions.

If you are the victim: Speak up. You never have to tolerate those unwanted actions. Report them to a senior officer or seek support from a trusted colleague.

Did you know?

The number of people being harassed and bullied at sea varies between 8% to 25% of all seafarers and over 50% of all women seafarers.

If you are a witness: Remember, you are a ‘buddy’, not a bystander. So, if you see something, say something. It’s not about causing trouble; it’s about creating a workplace where everyone feels respected and valued.

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Among Us
Among Us is a monthly digital newsletter, primarily for Safety Delta members, but also for those who want to get a ‘sneak peek’ at the experiences gained by those of us who are already ‘insiders’. It also presents the developments of Safety Delta.
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