Photo by Gregg Yan for Seafarer Asia
A few days after the government announced community quarantine, I received a lot of private messages from seafarers around the world, looking for emotional support and guidance. Like most of us here in the Philippines, they are worried too. But their situation is far different from our conditions. Many of them are due to disembark to enjoy their most awaited vacation. But because of the pandemic, many ports right now are prohibiting crew change.
Seafarers need to go home once their contracts are done. Many issues arise if crew change—replacing a seafarer whose contract has ended with another whose contract is starting—is canceled or delayed. While some take the situation in stride, many react negatively. Some threaten their Captain or immediate officer if they are not allowed to sign off. Some refuse to report for duty. Some even start fights with their fellow seafarers. These happen, even without the added stress of this pandemic.
The question now is, how can seafarers survive this crisis while onboard? If land-based people in the Philippines are worried, imagine the stress for seafarers. Not only are they worried about their families back home, but they are also fearful of their situation onboard.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has advised that adequate protection of the health and safety of the seafarers must remain a top priority during the evolving COVID-19 situation. It further says that the flag state should have sufficient measures to protect seafarers’ health by ensuring access to prompt and appropriate medical care while onboard.
What else can seafarers do? Here are my tips on how to deal with the stress of COVID-19 while physically isolated from your families and friends.
Be updated but not inundated
Yes, we must get the latest information about what is happening back in the Philippines. But if you will notice, many of the info online inspired fear rather than hope; anger rather than solidarity. You must ensure that you know how the crisis is progressing or being handled, but also make sure to protect yourself emotionally. Rather than subscribing to the political debates, just get enough information that you will need. Do not get obsessed with the news, and do not keep checking your social media account. Give yourself enough breaks from the news.
Find a distraction
You may watch a movie on board that will uplift you emotionally. Avoid watching emotional movies that tackle about OFW life; it will cause more homesickness. Instead, watch documentaries, sports, or comedies. You can also read, listen to podcasts, or take online courses.
Keep open communication with your family and friends
Allow yourself to be vulnerable and stop playing the superman role. Ask for support if you need it. Most seafarers have a tough-guy mentality. They always think of how they can give support to their loved ones. But there are times that we should learn how to ask for help from them. You will be amazed at how it will improve your relationship with your family if you allow them to support you as well.
Keep yourself healthy
If you have a gym onboard, plan for your regular exercise. Use your homecoming as your inspiration to be in shape. Some ships have basketball courts or table tennis equipment; maximize these and organize a tournament with your shipmates. Remember that even without this COVID-19 issue, studies show that physical exercise boosts our immune system and releases hormones such as endorphins and dopamine, which are the ‘feel good’ hormones. These can reduce stress, and lower the chances of depression.
Meditate or pray
Connect with the higher being. Practice gratitude. Allowing yourself to explore your spiritual side can lead you to feel more energetic, and more capable of surpassing the difficulties of your current situation.
Other seafarers may be with their families, but they are also worried about how to secure their families from health and financial catastrophes brought by this pandemic. It is quite understandable that we want to be with our families at this trying moment, but to look at the silver lining, at least you are still earning income while onboard. Yes, we are in a unique situation, but at the end of the day, we can still find reason to be grateful while we are onboard.