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Wednesday 1 February 2017

Seafarer fatigue warning

The final report of the three-year MARTHA project, funded by the TK Foundation, was presented to delegates at IMO at the beginning of the HTW Sub-Committee meeting on Monday 30 January 2017.

It was a highly appropriate venue and time for the launch of this new study into the long-term fatigue of seafarers, as delegates were there to discuss, among other subjects, the revision of the IMO fatigue guidelines.

The study found that Captains suffer from fatigue and stress more than their crews; fatigue can result in long term physical and mental health issues, motivation decreases over the length of the voyage; and night watch keepers get significantly less total sleep than others on board.

Analysis of the large data set is providing new insights into the psychological wellbeing of seafarers after long periods on board – including the finding that individual mood and social cohesion on board start to suffer after six months on board.

MARTHA has been co-ordinated by researchers at Warsash Maritime Academy, part of Southampton Solent University and partners from Sweden, Denmark, China and the UK.

MARTHA launch at IMO

The $1million project gathered a large database of new information from 1,000 seafarers, and carried out a field study of over 100 seafarers working at sea worldwide.  The study collected data on their fatigue levels, sleep patterns and psychological wellbeing.

Of particular importance was the use of Actiwatches for extended periods, which volunteers wore to register their periods of activity and sleep. Claire Pekcan, Professor of Maritime Applied Psychology at Warsash, who worked on the actigraphy analysis with Dr Anne Hillstrom of the University of Southampton, says:

“The actigraphy analysis has been particularly interesting and demonstrates how the overall amount of sleep decreases over time on board, and how the quality of sleep, as measured through disturbances to sleep, increases the longer crew are on board.”

Other important issues include the differences in perception of fatigue between seafarers managed by European companies and Chinese owned companies; and the effects of port visits on workload and fatigue.

Captain Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General of InterManager, who is responsible for the dissemination of the findings to the shipping industry, says:

“A series of workshop events for managers and seafarers world-wide have been conducted in locations like Singapore and Manila and more are planned for 2017. The outcomes of these workshops are included in the final report, which provides both useful guidance for companies wishing to improve their understanding of fatigue, as well as a blueprint for resolving issues”.

Speaking about the future impact of the study, Emeritus Professor Mike Barnett says:

“The shipping industry has been following MARTHA’s progress with interest, as the momentum for revising the guidance on fatigue has grown at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Of particular interest for future research are our findings on individual mood, team working and social cohesion, all of which appear to deteriorate after about six months on board.”

You can view a copy of MARTHA: The Final Report here.