Supporting Crew Through the Loss of a Colleague

19/07/2017 | North

North has previously issued guidance to Members providing advice in relation to the practical procedures which should be followed following a death on board a vessel.

This article provides suggestions for dealing with the emotional and pastoral needs of the crew following a traumatic incident or sad loss of a colleague.                                                  

Our earlier guidance can be found here: Looking after the Dead and Dying

Faced with a traumatic event such as the death or serious illness or injury to a crew member on board a vessel the shipowner and Master of a vessel can be confronted with many challenges, such as dealing with the local authorities and the police to the more practical matters of returning the remains and personal possessions of the deceased seafarer to the family as quickly as possible. 

When faced with these competing issues, it is not surprising that acknowledging the loss felt by the crew may be overlooked.  This article seeks to provide the Master with practicable ideas to support fellow crew members during the grieving process and to assist those affected by the loss of their colleague/co-worker/friend.  Support may be particularly helpful where the death was due to an accident and for those members of the crew who may have witnessed the death.

Following a sudden death, we all process the event, our thoughts and also the reality of the loss internally.  Each of us have different coping mechanisms and for some support may not be necessary.  It is important that the Master acknowledges that it is ok for crew not to feel 100% following a death on board.

At one time it was believed that the best strategy was to encourage people to talk about the loss although, this is now thought to be intrusive.  Instead, those affected by the death should be allowed time to come to terms with it, assess what happened and their own feelings.  The Master should allow the crew time to discuss their feelings, either as a group or on an individual basis but not insisting that they openly discuss their feelings in front of others.   Allowing crew to talk about the loss of their colleague assists the grieving process and allows the seafarer to come to terms with the loss of a colleague.  In most cases the Master need only provide the opportunity to talk, provide empathy and listen.  Talking may allow a seafarer to process their thoughts and feelings more quickly and come to terms with the loss.

Some seafarers may not wish to talk about the death and their decision should be respected.  Others may wish to talk about the death perhaps on more than one occasion and the Master should allow time listen.   

As a practicable way of addressing the spiritual needs of the crew the Master may wish to arrange for a priest to carry out a service on board in memory of the seafarer or alternatively a re-blessing of the vessel. Apostleship of the Sea is a worldwide organisation who operate in 60 countries covering 260 ports and who offer pastoral support through ship visits as well as carrying out blessings of a vessel following a request received by the shipowner or Master.

For a short time after the incident, the Master should also be aware of any changes in mood or behaviour of individual crew as this may indicate that additional support may be required, such as therapy ashore.  This may be particularly true for those crew who continue to talk about the loss well after others have come to terms with it or perhaps witnessed the traumatic event leading to the death or serious injury to a crew member.  The vast majority of crew will likely return to normal after a short period of time.

Some crew members may wish to access support ashore rather than discuss their feelings on board. An organisation called Seafarerhelp offers a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The service includes the provision of emotional support on board the vessel as well as onshore counselling at the home port following an assessment of needs. 

Supporting crew after a death on board may also help raise morale following a tragic event and minimise the emotional impact on the crew.

In brief, after a death or other traumatic event on board:-

  • Acknowledge that it is ok not be 100%.
  • Provide opportunities for the crew to discuss the loss of their colleague, but do not insist.
  • Allow individual crew to discuss their feelings and on a number of occasions, if necessary.
  • Be alert to changes in crew behaviour.
  • Consider a religious service/re-blessing of the vessel.
  • Remember, there is no specific treatment for dealing with loss and advice for dealing with such a tragic event may change over time.

For more information on Seafarer help, click here

For more information on AoS, click here