A NEW report by Norwegian marine insurers Gard has shined light on issues facing seafarers, highlighting mental illness as a significant problem.

Gard have released their Crew Claims Report 2024, which highlights the significance of seafarers’ health and safety, and details the common crew related claims over the last five years from 2019 to 2023, including illnesses, injuries and fatalities.

The report featured mental illness among the top ten illnesses affecting crews over the past five years, growing significantly over the Covid-19 pandemic, with Gard registering an average of 47 mental health disorders annually.

Suicide was highlighted as a significant cause of seafarer fatalities, accounting for 11% of registered crew fatalities since 2019.

Despite this high frequency, Gard say the actual number of crew suicides may well be higher due to underreporting.

Suicide was the third most common cause of seafarer fatalities behind illness and injury, with illness accounting for a lion’s share of 74% of fatalities.

Interestingly, this figure correlates directly to data from the World Health Organisation, which states that 74% of deaths globally are caused by non-communicable diseases, like heart disease and cancer.

Per the report, “As an industry we are unfortunately far from where we would like to be, and over the past 5 years, Gard has recorded over 400 crew fatalities.”

“The frequency of death claims is fortunately low at 0.01 deaths per vessel year with the worst recorded year being 2021 in the last five years.”

Seafaring is an operationally hazardous occupation, and seafarers globally often face lower standards of health and safety onboard, as well as other challenges such as lowered quality of living standards and wage theft.

Ross Nicholls from the Mission to Seafarers in Brisbane recently told DCN he believes that contract lengths are a contributing factor to seafarers’ mental health.

“Shorter contracts and increased connectivity with home will improve a seafarers welfare dramatically” he said. “When speaking with seafarers on short contracts they are generally way happier,” he said.

“The only reason contracts are long and connectivity has been so poor is to reduce operating expenses. Better returns for the ship owner/operator who take advantage of developing nations as the supply for their workforce.”

One positive that did emerge from the report was a decline in the overall frequency of illness claims, excluding Covid-related claims, dropping from a historic high in 2020 to lower levels by 2023.

Although a seemingly positive development, Gard says it is still too early to say whether it is the start of a continued longer trend.