Seafarers experiencing bullying are not alone

March 31, 2021
Man 1 cropped

ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp is a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A young Russian seafarer contacted SeafarerHelp after seeing a poster for the helpline in his ship’s day room – he was being bullied by his captain and was feeling very scared.

The seafarer asked if he could speak to someone in his own language. One of SeafarerHelp’s Russian speakers responded to him and reassured him that they knew this may be difficult to talk about but he could share his worries with the helpline confidentially.

The seafarer explained that his captain was aggressive – he would shout and swear at crew members of lower ranks, and he had insulted and humiliated the seafarer in front of other crew members on numerous occasions. He said the captain had cut his internet access and would watch him and look for flaws in his work. The young seafarer became afraid every day that he would do something wrong. When crew changes were put on hold due to COVID-19, the seafarer said that the thought of not being able to finish work and go home was unbearable.

The SeafarerHelp officer acknowledged what a difficult time the seafarer was having and offered some guidance on how to deal with bullying on board, suggesting that the seafarer could look into the company policy on bullying and shouldn’t be afraid to seek support from his colleagues. The helpline officer also sent the seafarer some links to online guidance and some of ISWAN’s free self-help materials on mental wellbeing.

The SeafarerHelp team helped the seafarer to draft a grievance letter to his company in English and filed a complaint on his behalf with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), who confirmed they would look into the issue. The seafarer sent a message shortly after to report that his company’s crewing director had spoken to him and action had been taken. The seafarer thanked SeafarerHelp for all the support he had received: ‘Your input has been invaluable…The master apologised in person and it all started with you, thank you’.

If you are 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 Further information and guidance can be found at

Support our work for seafarers' welfare by donating today


Stay up to date with ISWAN's monthly email newsletter

We are grateful to our main funders for their continued support: