As the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) reports a high demand for its helpline services over the last year, it is clear that accessible welfare and support services for seafarers worldwide remain a priority for the maritime industry.
In its newly released annual review covering 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2022, ISWAN reports that the total number of calls and messages handled by its free, 24-hour, international helpline SeafarerHelp was still 81% higher during the last financial year than before the pandemic in 2019/20. Demand for ISWAN’s helpline for crew working in the superyacht industry, Yacht Crew Help, has also grown steadily since its launch back in November 2020, and ISWAN now operates 16 bespoke helplines for companies and organisations in the maritime industry, adding five new helplines in the last year.
Over 80% of ISWAN’s helpline cases are dealt with in-house, and many from the last year were referred to ISWAN’s staff in India, the Philippines and Nigeria who offer practical humanitarian support to seafarers and their families living in these regions.
The most common reasons for seafarers and their family members contacting SeafarerHelp included requests for information (including health-related enquiries about COVID-19 and ISWAN’s COVID-19 vaccination drive in India) and financial or debt problems, with many seafarers enquiring about financial support administered by ISWAN for those affected by COVID-19 and Typhoon Rai in the Philippines. At the end of March 2022, ISWAN also launched the Ukraine Crisis Support Fund on behalf of the Seafarers International Relief Fund in response to the war in Ukraine.
With seafarers facing challenges ranging from personal struggles to global crises, seafarers’ mental health remains a key area of work for ISWAN. Stakeholders from across the shipping, superyacht and cruise ship industries continue to approach ISWAN to deliver its Mental Health Awareness Training for the Maritime Industry to their shoreside and seagoing staff. ISWAN’s Social Interaction Matters (SIM) Project also completed its trials of social interaction initiatives on board merchant vessels in 2021 and the project’s Phase Two report, recommendations and guidance for the industry have since been released this year.
ISWAN is working to make free support more accessible for seafarers around the world, especially those with limited connectivity on board. To complement its existing services, the organisation launched the ISWAN for Seafarers app in June 2021 in partnership with The Shipowners’ Club. The app offers a direct line to ISWAN’s helplines and offline access to resources for seafarers, and was downloaded over 2,800 times in the last financial year alone by seafarers of 70 nationalities.
ISWAN’s Chief Executive Officer Simon Grainge said: