It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid,
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time
But say a prayer, pray for the other ones…
Do they know it’s Christmas?
36 years since we first heard these lyrics to raise awareness of and financial relief for the severe famine in Ethiopia. Today, while many are wondering if they will be able to see all their family during the holiday season, or bemoaning the lack of Christmas parties, please remember the hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded at sea for their unwavering bravery and the sacrifices they have made this past year as a direct result of the humanitarian crew change crisis that ensued due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While daily parcels are delivered to our doors and stocks and supplies are replenished at shops and supermarkets, how often do we think about the fact that at least 80% of these goods have been transported by sea?
Seafarers have enabled the continuation of the global supply chain while being stranded on board their ships for up to 18 months, without seeing family or friends and without knowing when they will.
The pandemic has resulted in catastrophic losses in terms of human lives and the economic fallout. The virus has also had a severe impact on mental health. Fortunately, those at home have access to various support networks, however, the situation is far more critical for those at sea.
As a result, countless seafarers’ physical and mental health conditions have gone untreated, due to port restrictions preventing much needed welfare reaching seafarers when they need it the most.
One of the main tragedies of this crisis has been the rise in seafarer suicides, primarily due to the lack of freely available communication services to allow the seafarers to contact loved ones or welfare services.
Digitalisation of the shipping industry has been a hot topic for a number years and its’ implementation has recently accelerated. From operational efficiency to emissions monitoring or a regulatory requirements perspective, finally the spotlight has been focused on providing more effective communications access for crew so that they can keep in contact with loved ones not only during this crisis, but for their overall wellbeing and beyond.
Let’s reflect back 36 years for a moment…connectivity at sea was something very different then. The first maritime satellite communications service was launched by Inmarsat in 1982 and offered voice, telex and low speed data rates at a significant cost, and access for crew was at an absolute minimum. However, this started the journey for more than radio communications to be available while at sea.
Fast forward to today, while connectivity speeds can be more representative as to what we enjoy at home, some 650,000 seafarers still do not have access to service onboard.
This is all about to change where a satellite service is already on the vessel…
FrontM, a digital startup founded in 2017, brought to fruition by a small group of dedicated and passionate people who believe in effecting transformational change in remote environments, such as maritime, by optimising communications, collaboration and automation technologies to fundamentally improve day-to-day processes and interactions.
With the ambition to help seafarers and their loved ones to combat feelings of isolation, loneliness and overall seafarer wellness, FrontM have just launched a new super app, OnShip.
The good news is that it is free to download on both Android & Apple, it provides substantially cheaper and secure crew communications for seafarers (calls to any number including satellite numbers will cost 50% less than what they usually pay today) so they can do what most of us take for granted every day – to message, video call, send pictures to their loved ones or simply enabling group chat amongst fellow seafarers.
The same app provides instant access to vital welfare support services such as the International Seafarers Welfare & Assistance Network and access to an on-demand healthcare service for medical advice and more all available at the tap of a button. Onship is also available to the seafarer’s family so that also have a link to their loved ones at sea.
While it is great that it is becoming easier for seafarers and their loved ones to stay in touch, it is essential that focus remains on resolving the issue of enabling seafarers to get home.