The world is experiencing a global pandemic, the Coronavirus (Covid-19). With the virus taking its full effect on most countries in March or April of 2020, our lives have been changed drastically trying to adapt to the ‘new normal’. For us to mitigate the spreading of the virus we must wear a mask, wash our hands frequently or sanitize, and practice social distancing. It is almost impossible to keep your distance from the people you converse with daily for peace of mind while at sea – and by this, the people are your co-workers. The challenges are bizarre, especially since most of us are experiencing our first pandemic. Now imagine the people who are left stranded at sea because they are not permitted to dock at their home borders because of governments’ restrictions.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) reported that- “the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on travel and transit have severely impacted on seafarers. Despite multiple pleas to Governments to designate them as essential key workers and to facilitate their travel, the number of seafarers whose contracts have been extended by several months has continued to increase. Some seafarers have now been at sea for 17 months without a break, well beyond the 11-month limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). Besides the 400,000 seafarers stuck at sea, another 400,000 are unable to join ships”. How does one cope with being at sea for months or a year, now excited to reunite with their family, only to find out that your stay at sea has been extended due to an uncontrollable global pandemic? This is like a kid discovering that Santa is not real the day before Christmas! Oh the trauma!
During this time of uncertainty, the people who are at sea mental health are affected by a plethora of issues. While some seafarers anticipate going back to sea, the ones at sea are experiencing a plight. With more Covid-19 tests being frequently done, ships are able to dock in some countries. Once seafarers or crew members dock, they are placed into a facility to quarantine for a few days. They are then released once they are asymptomatic, and get to reunite with their loved ones. However, people are still at sea and are unable to go home because their contracts have either been extended, their visas have been expired and cannot be renewed at the moment, or they just have to work to support the family. In the midst of these unfortunate circumstances, this too shall pass.