I was an early supporter of the seafarer charities. I wrote about their fund-raising activities and praised them for their good deeds. Then they started to make a lot of noise about depression at sea. That made me pause and ask: why the sudden concern with seafarers’ mental health?
It did not take long for me to realise that the charities that were most vocal on the issue were also pushing for mental health training. The London-based Sailors Society even launched a campaign urging people to sign an online petition to amend ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 and make the training mandatory for seafarers. The vested interest was clear, but no one seemed to be bothered by it.
I believe I was the first to point out the negative, albeit subtle, effect of the depression-at-sea campaign. In a June 2020 post, I wrote:
By constantly harping on depression at sea, the shipping industry — not just the charities — is creating an image of the seafarer that is the opposite of what he or she should be. Instead of the hardy spirits celebrated in maritime literature and art, we are presented with the portrait of the modern-day sailor as a weakling who needs everyone’s sympathy.
Thankfully, the charities concerned appear to have slowed down on their campaign. And why shouldn’t they? Apparently, they have succeeded in getting more money from corporate donors. Some companies have even adopted their training programmes on mental health awareness.
The plain truth is that most of the maritime charity we see today is donations-driven. Many seafarer charities feel compelled to drum up certain issues so that money from corporate donors will keep flowing. One wonders what what will come next after seafarers’ mental health. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination at sea?
That could be a little too controversial. I would suggest a campaign to promote book reading among seafarers. Surely, the corporate donors would want to support such a cause. The charities can launch a donate-a-book-for-seafarers drive, and shipowners can set up shipboard libraries on their fleets.
Ah, but how many maritime professionals really care to read books these days?