The impact of the crisis in Ukraine on seafarers

Crises intrude our daily lives, causing feelings of stress, anxiety or sadness and posing a threat to our physical and psychological health while altering our capacity to cope with the adversities. The current war crisis in Ukraine along with the widespread attention of disturbing images of the war, the potential warnings of nuclear threats have evoked strong feelings of worry, anxiety and fear putting people on high alert.


It only took a few hours for Ukrainians to see their lives turned upside down. Millions of civilians were caught in a war zone, separated from families and stuck in danger and instability. The conflict in Ukraine has a deep impact on the maritime industry, on global trade, and none the least on the seafarers. During the pandemic crisis, thousands of seafarers felt “forgotten”, “isolated” and “helpless” due to the covid-19 measures. We need to remind ourselves that war is a potentially traumatic event that can have long lasting impact on psychological health, and to make sure that our seafarers feel protected rather than forgotten or helpless again.

The current situation has especially implications on Ukrainian and Russian seafarers; with some seafarers and their families being directly caught up in the war zone, and others are onboard vessels, constantly worried about their families who are in danger and sometimes unable to reach them. How can we help with the emotional distress and uncertainty that seafarers are currently facing?


Communication

The most critical step is establishing safety by ensuring that seafarers communicate regularly with their loved ones at home. Maritime companies need to provide and ensure that Wi-Fi is available and that seafarers are able to have regular contact with their loved ones, helping them feel safe and secure. We often forget that communication is not just about exchanging a few words or our news, but the sharing of ourselves with others. In this case, talking on the phone for a few minutes is beyond precious since so many seafarers who are away from their families may be concerned and worried about their loved ones’ safety. Therefore, through a few moments on the phone or a few texts they can find and give the support that is needed in times of crisis.


News and updates

News is increasingly directed for entertainment purposes, broadcasting disturbing and graphic images that can leave viewers shellshocked. Staying informed is very important but media over exposure during a crisis can lead to psychological distress and poor mental state of health. However, there are steps you can take to protect your wellbeing by choosing the media you get your updates, choosing a credible source and limiting the amount of time spent on receiving news including notifications.


Dealing with Stress

In the midst of dealing with a crisis it is important to stay focused on actively lessening your stress response to events by keeping things in perspective, learn to distinguish between real threats from irrational fears, and practice stress management skills such as thought stopping, negative and overgeneralized thinking. Often we are flooded with anxiety because we are anticipating the worst outcome instead on focusing on real. Engage in self care and activities that allow you to have a sense of control can be helpful in dealing with the chaos felt during a crisis.


Emotional Processing

Dealing with the aftermath of a crisis can evoke strong negative emotions; anger, frustration, sadness, shame and guilt that unless they are processed and managed in healthy ways can lead to negative reactions including conflict, arguments and aggression. The Ukraine war can be notably challenging for Russian and Ukrainian seafarers coexisting onboard, if discussions arise and become heated leading to conflicts. This can be very challenging because conflicts may often arise and there is no easy way out of arguments regarding the war. Therefore, it is safer to avoid discussing this subject matter by keeping things in perspective, creating opportunities to support and uplift each other and avoid stereotyping people and situations.


We wish that all seafarers understand that we are thinking about them! We can only imagine the stress, sadness and fear that they are experiencing. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution way to deal with the crisis we are currently facing.