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The three-year MARTHA research project into seafarer fatigue concluded in 2016, and the final report was presented to delegates at the IMO's human element, training and watchkeeping committee on 30 January 2017.

The study found that fatigue can result in long-term physical and mental health issues and individual motivation decreases over the length of the voyage. It also highlighted that night watchkeepers get significantly less total sleep than others onboard, and that Masters suffer more stress and fatigue than their crews.

The analysis of the large data set provides new insights into the psychological wellbeing of seafarers after long periods on board - including the finding that individual and social cohesion starts to suffer after six months on board.

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. 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.

Emeritus Professor Mike Barnett, Solent University

Download the final report


Over course of the project, the research team constructed a large database of information on fatigue in seafarers. This included the results of questionnaires and interviews of 1,000 international seafarers, and 100 volunteer crew members operating on vessels worldwide during their tours of duty. The volunteers recorded their fatigue and stress levels in weekly diaries, which were sent directly to the research team every week for periods of up to four months. Selected crew members also wore Actiwatches at the beginning and end of their tours of duty to record their physical activity levels. Other information collected included the times of individual vessel port calls, in-port inspections, weather conditions and any other situation that is likely to affect the quality of sleep.

Seafarer fatigue is a major issue for the safety and economics of shipping and the protection of the marine environment. Estimates suggest that 25 per cent of marine casualties are caused by fatigue. Project HORIZON demonstrated that sleepiness levels for some watch-keeping regimes are high, and actual sleep can occur. The main outcome of the project was a fatigue prediction model for use by voyage planners to ease workloads on ships’ crews.

Building on its predecessor project HORIZON, the new project MARTHA, led by Solent University and sponsored by the TK Foundation to a total value of over £1million, is also exploring how such data driven initiatives can be used in fatigue risk management systems (FRMS). The concept of FRMS, which was pioneered in aviation, involves the use of fatigue prediction models, transparent reporting systems, and training guidance to mitigate the risk of fatigue at sea. IMO is currently revising their fatigue guidelines and the scientific findings from MARTHA will be able to make a positive contribution to this work on an international stage.

The findings were discussed at a workshop at Warsash Maritime Academy in June 2016.

The introduction of such fatigue risk mitigation measures will potentially save lives, have an impact on the competitive success of global shipping companies, and bring significant economic and environmental benefit.

The main beneficiaries of the research will be:

  • IMO and international legislation,
  • National regulators and accident investigators,
  • Shipping companies,
  • Insurance and P&I clubs, and
  • Seafarers and their families.
Fatigue is a very serious issue which has not been properly researched yet, especially as it relates to the maritime industry. Project HORIZON established baseline information on fatigue, but it is time we explore the whole issue further. I am delighted that industry and the research partners have come together and that the TK Foundation can assist in this extremely important project. I have no doubt the results will be a 'game-changer'.

Captain Kuba Szymankski, InterManager Secretary General

Academic impact

The EU funded HORIZON and TKF funded MARTHA brought together internationally renowned research teams from several countries. The outputs from the projects have and will feature in high-level academic journals.

In addition, the findings from the projects have been presented at numerous international conferences organised for the shipping industry - from Rio de Janeiro to Manila, and from Norway to China.

Meet the team

Emeritus Professor Mike Barnett, Principal Investigator, Solent University
Mike is the Emeritus Professor of maritime safety at Warsash Maritime Academy. After a seafaring career reaching the rank of chief officer, Mike joined Warsash in 1985 as a lecturer in tanker safety. He was awarded a PhD from the University of Wales, Cardiff in 1989 for his work on human error and the use of simulation in training for emergencies. Mike was head of research at Warsash from 1999 to his retirement in 2015, directing its research strategy and several externally-sponsored national, European and international research projects relating to maritime human factors, including both the HORIZON and MARTHA projects.

Mike was at IMO for the revision of STCW in 1995 and again in 2010 for the Manila amendments, and has now been invited to join the UK delegation fo the IMO sessions on the revision of the fatigue guidelines in 2016 and 2017. Mike is a Chartered Marine Scientist, Fellow of the Nautical Institute and Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST). In 2012, Mike was awarded the UK Merchant Navy Medal for his contribution to maritime safety and research.

Göran Kecklund, Associate Professor, Stress Research Institute (SRI)
Göran is a research specialist in sleep and stress topics and has worked on the measurement and analysis of the data from the HORIZON and MARTHA projects. Göran obtained his PhD in psychology in 1997 and is the current deputy director of the Stress Research Institute. He has published more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and is associate editor for the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health.

Wessel van Leeuwen, Stress Research Institute (SRI)
Wessel is a researcher in the sleep and fatigue unit at SRI, working in the field of sleep and fatigue for over 10 years. He has worked on the measurement and analysis of the data from the HORIZON and MARTHA projects, and has given over 20 talks, including invited ones, at a wide variety of scientific conferences on the topics of sleep and fatigue. Wessel is a member of the Dutch Society for Sleep Wake Research (NSWO), the Swedish Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (SFSS), the European Sleep Research Society (ESRS), the Swedish Ergonomics and Human Factors Society (EHSS), and the Marie Curie Fellowship Association (MCFA). In addition, he teaches master's courses on psychobiological processes, stress, and health at Stockholm University.

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