By Raymund Antonio
The decline in the number of Filipino seafarers onboard foreign vessels due to their poor mental health condition has alarmed the maritime industry.
This was pointed out by Capt. Jesser Cordova, president of Interworld Shipping Corporation, during the recent launch of a book, titled “Uncovering Seafarers Mental Health: Shattering the Stigma, Fostering Change,” at Sofitel Hotel, Pasay City.
Cordova, who is the founder of the Seafarers Mental Health Center, specifically cited Japanese ship-owners who hire foreign seafarers instead of Filipino maritime professionals.
“Poor mental health connotes bad or erratic work performance. And my Japanese principals are so sick and tired, prompting them to pick instead other Asian seafarers such Burmese, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, among others,” he said.
Cordova explained the mental health disorders faced by Filipino seafarers can be attributed to the “disregard of human element” in the maritime industry.
“Maritime regulators and government institutions focus on the technical side, disregarding the human element side which is the main reason why we seafarers suffer from depression and anxiety disorders that can lead to deaths by committing suicide,” he said.
The worldwide fleet is composed of men, and Cordova stated that men, who are vocal about mental issues, can be perceived as a weakness.
“As inferior, as flawed, broken guys who are more likely to be ostracized for their honesty, instead of rewarded for their bravery. Instead of affording a fellow man compassion, we mock, belittle, and turn a blind eye. We freely spit the phrase, “Man up,” as though your gender alone should suffice to guide you through your darkest times,” he declared.
The impact of Filipino seafarers to the global economy has been quite a known feat. Any global economy movement via ocean-going merchant vessels has Filipino seafarers onboard.
However, the rising cases of Filipino seafarers suffering from mental disorders have caused the decline in the deployment of seafarers abroad.
A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that the global economy loses up to $1 trillion annually due to lost productivity caused by mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This includes the sea-based workforce.
The report stated, “And for the shipping world, studies done by pertinent international medical institutions showed that the data on suicides proved that the mental health in seafarers alone continues to be very poor and often fatal”.
Cordova, who is a seafarer himself, said that it is now high time for government regulators to foster change by including discussions about mental health during their pre-departure orientation seminar.