A rise in reported suicides among seafarers has led Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC) to call for greater investment in shoreside support.
The ecumenical charity, which has centres in Crosby and Eastham, has reiterated calls for the United Kingdom to follow New Zealand’s lead by pursuing legislation to use government cash to fund seafarers centres in its ports.
Its chief executive, John Wilson, was responding to ‘worrying reports’ of an increase in crew members taking their own lives during 2020 as he declared it ‘more vital than ever that we invest in shoreside support for these essential workers’. The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) says the number of reported suicides, and instances of seafarers calling with suicidal thoughts, has ‘roughly doubled’ from about 12 in a normal year to 25 since March 2020.
Underlining the difficulties many seafarers have faced amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Wilson added: ‘Cut off from their families for prolonged periods of time, living in cramped conditions, many have told us of their struggles with poor mental health, highlighting a need for greater support.
‘In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced in 2020 she was pursuing legislation to use government cash to fund seafarers’ centres in the country’s ports, revealing the importance she placed on those transporting essential supplies. We support this move and believe the UK should make following this example a priority.’
In New Zealand the country’s charity-operated port facilities were often lacking the essential welfare facilities that LSC, for instance, is able to provide. Wilson explained: ‘Our centres provide a home from home for seafarers docked in the city, giving them a place to rest and socialise on land, offering access to wi-fi and internet-enabled SIM cards for contacting home, and providing transport during non-Covid times to allow seafarers to enjoy their shore leave.
‘We visit vessels to integrate with the crew, offering a listening ear to help combat isolation and loneliness and act as a mediator between seafarers and their employers, should this be required. Yet not every port has these services.’
LSC receives funding from shipping lines via a voluntary levy paid by those operating in the Port of Liverpool and Manchester Ship Canal. Wilson said that if such a levy were made mandatory, it could result in a vast improvement in the support infrastructure – and perhaps ‘be the difference between life or death for some of this valuable workforce. One suicide is one too many, which we must avoid at all costs.’