Today is World Mental Health Day and ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp, our free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All employers should have clear policies in place for dealing with shipboard bullying and harassment, but SeafarerHelp is available if a seafarer needs someone to talk to or support during the complaints process. When a messman called Daniel* contacted SeafarerHelp to report that he had been wrongly accused of a theft on board, our helpline team was there to support him.
Daniel got in touch with SeafarerHelp via Live Chat because he felt he was being unfairly blamed for a hard drive, belonging to the captain, going missing. He explained that during a recent crew meeting, the captain said he had left the hard drive in his cabin and Daniel felt humiliated when crewmates started looking at him, because he was the only other person who had access to the captain’s cabin.
Although the captain did not directly accuse him of stealing the hard drive, Daniel found the insinuation even worse. He felt helpless in defending himself and chose to keep quiet as he was not confident in expressing his thoughts clearly in English. He felt weighed down and judged. He said: ‘When I didn’t say anything, I knew some of them probably thought I was guilty. But I also knew that if I tried to explain, they would have seen me as being defensive.’
It did not help that after the incident, a crewmate told Daniel that his cabin was inspected by the captain and chief officer without Daniel’s knowledge. Nothing was found during the search, but Daniel was unhappy about how the situation was handled.
After the incident, Daniel felt he was then being accused of other things, such as being disrespectful to his superior. He felt stressed, discouraged and bullied by his colleagues, was having trouble sleeping and had become both unable and unwilling to perform his duties on board. He said: ‘When you work on a ship, trust is such an important thing. I need to know that the people I work with have my back; instead they went behind it with what they did.’
SeafarerHelp focused on providing Daniel with emotional support, and connected him with one of the helpline’s Filipino speakers so he could communicate in his own language. For a whole month, the SeafarerHelp team checked in with Daniel to reassure him that he was not alone, and explored ways in which he could manage his stress and deliver on his responsibilities while ‘preserving his integrity’. On Daniel’s request, the team also contacted the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) inspector at the vessel’s next port of call for advice on Daniel’s situation.
Daniel decided to stay on board to complete his contract. He was offered no apology, but the captain had encouraged him to ‘forget about the incident’. Daniel said that the experience had never left his mind, but said: ‘My condition is good…Thank you for taking care of my situation. Thank you for your…support.’
Like Daniel, seafarers may often find themselves feeling isolated, stressed and misunderstood. The SeafarerHelp team is trained to provide emotional support and practical help to those who need it.
If you or a family member is experiencing any form of abuse, bullying or harassment at sea, you can speak to a member of the SeafarerHelp team confidentially – all our contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org. Make a note of our details or save them on your phone in case you ever need our help or support.
*This seafarer’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.
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