This month, we welcome guest writer Simon Burhorst, CEO of the Maritime Electronic Supply Hub (MESH), who discusses here the significance of food on board a vessel and its link to crew wellbeing.
Waking up in the morning the first thing to do for many of us is to drink a cup of coffee.
Our body demands it and our head reminds us of the daily ritual. We are always free to decide what we will cook for dinner and we expect to have a fully filled fridge when we come home from our regular working hours. If there is anything missing, we simply purchase it.
We can also get in touch with our family, our partners and our friends at any time to have phone calls and meet outside for a drink or at least take a walk through the park.
We as people ashore take all this for granted. But what if there is no daily option to talk to our family to know how they are doing? What if there is no possibility to go out and meet friends? What if there is no filled fridge after a 16-hour working day including a spontaneous night shift? And what if the coffee is missing at the coffee break?
Well, this is often reality for more than 1.8 million seafarers out there.
From our experience we know that the food on board of vessels is one of the main entertainments and a big part of the crew welfare - a mostly discussed topic in shipping nowadays. Is it really necessary that seafarers need to overcome exhausting power games against people ashore to finally get the responsibility and freedom to order their bananas and peaches? Or shouldn’t they receive this minimum of respect at least when they are expected to carry billions of value with their ships over the seven seas always with a reliable and smooth performance? It’s a rhetorical question: of course they should get the freedom!
A recipe for the people on board should always come from the people on board. It is difficult for us sitting ashore to consider and control the importance of cultural and religious diversity of nutrition on ships with several nationalities and different tastes.
Food gives physical strength to our body. It provides us with energy to be prepared for a hard working day. It can make us feel at home when we are far away, but it can also make us sick. Food also provides mental strength. It can control the motivation of a single person or even entire crews on board and it can steer their relationship. The ship’s galley is not only where the cook whips up the meals, it is moreover the central meeting point on a ship where people and their stories come together and the cook finally becomes the leading character on board in regards to the mental wellbeing of their colleagues. What happens when we limit the cook‘s opportunities and make it impossible for them to serve qualified meals? It simply causes extra mental stress. Mealtimes should be viewed as an enjoyable social experience with good, healthy food options to maintain a healthy lifestyle for our tireless key workers.
Talking about the power of food, we also need to consider the commercial facts that exist in the shipping industry: with an insufficient quantity of food on board, ships can be held by the port state which always costs a huge amount of money for their managers - and again increases the stress level ashore.
The topic of crew welfare on board is omnipresent. It’s a mixture of the above described physical health with sports and good nutrition combined with the mental wellbeing and the social contact to families and friends. Just like the food, it’s a question of variance where balance is the key.
Our incredible industry is asking for environmental sustainability but is currently producing food and money waste with personal preferences and emotions playing their part at the decision stage.
We need to adapt to a more digital, standardised and innovative way of working to stop this waste. Innovation is described as the process of translating an idea or invention into a good service that creates value. So all we have to do is to open up for it and trust in evidence-based technology which luckily now exists. Anyway the tasks for a seafarer on board will change in the future due to digitalisation but missing signs of standardisation will keep the problem present. The shipping industry must understand the core problem, look for the right solution and need the courage to implement it without hedging. Our colleagues on board have suffered enough and should no longer need to rely on charities or just our goodwill to get proper welfare on board. It’s time to appreciate and give them the respect they deserve.
The Maritime Electronic Supply Hub (MESH) provides crew with an order and monitoring tool to ensure a varied, sufficient, and healthy diet on board beside detailed budget control. To find out more, visit www.mesh-online.com.