I recently was invited as a guest to share some insights on trauma within our industry for Alandia Marine Insurance and I thought it would be of interest to you to learn where we stand when it comes to Crew Trauma.
Trauma is an area that I got to know quite intimately during my time working for the Department of Justice and Corrective Services. I was working in maximum security for five years delivering treatment interventions, writing psychoeducational programmes, and providing face to face counselling. Now the violence I was exposed to in the prison system, as well as learning about the traumatic life experiences of my clients’ years later triggered the onset of the vicarious trauma so those of you who don’t know what the curious trauma is, it is a form of indirect trauma that can be triggered through secondhand stories regarding traumatic incidences, or even through reading criminal history records which I had to do, and I can tell you these stories are something you wouldn’t want to store in your memory bank.
I’m someone who has a strong desire not to see individuals suffer, and to do my best to use my skillsets to help them carve a better life for themselves. With my background in counselling, psychology, and organisational psychology and being an ex seafarer myself, I now help superyacht crew overcome career adversity through online counselling, through my accredited Guest IAMI Advanced Leadership course, as well as providing a safe platform for like-minded individuals to come together to access a powerful support network and practical resources through my online seafarers’ membership.
In this article, my intention is to highlight what is happening in our industry and what we can do to protect our Crew. I will be sharing real-life examples of Crew trauma incidents, the shortcomings of what we are not doing so well at in our sector and then the preventative and protective measures that we should have in place to safeguard our Crew.
On the 31st of October, I ran a poll on my social media page, and I had over 300 views and a couple of hundred Crew members participating in the poll. 72% said yes to having been bullied and 63% were victims of physical, psychological or sexual abuse and a further 35% experienced sexual assault. Sadly 74 % said they didn’t receive support after these incidents.
I want to highlight some of these examples of trauma as a lot of these experiences are not being highlighted.
I’m hearing more and more reports of Heads of Departments, Captains at the helm who are intoxicated while driving the vessel these adverse behaviours not only put the guests but Crews’ safety at severe risk.
This past year I’ve also been involved with providing counselling sessions for Crew members who witnessed a death on board of either a Crew member or Guest onboard. In addition to this, I have been providing counselling to a Crew member who is struggling with post-traumatic stress as a result of being held hostage onboard along with his fellow Crew members. Counselling and support were only offered months after the incident.
PYA ran a survey a few years ago and I assisted with presenting the results of the survey as well as psychoeducation around sexual harassment, bullying and assault at the sea changes forum in Monaco.
Here are some examples of trauma experienced by the Crew:
“I was physically pinned and mauled by a drunken guest, who also happened to be the owner.”
“I’ve had a crew member grab my breast. The supervisor kept him on my shift for five months after the incident saying just because he grabbed your beard doesn’t make him a hard worker.”
“She jumped into my bed naked and wouldn’t leave. She was from another yacht and found our crew dorky and helped herself and boy.”
It’s really important to note here that with regards to sexual assault, harassment, bullying, it’s not gender-specific. Men are also victims of harassment and sexual assault.
“I was dragged and taken into a cabin by three crew members no memory of what happened but work in the wrong cabin was northwards, reported to the captain, he did nothing.”
“My captain referred to an attractive woman as bush pigs, in his view that all men cheat including your father’s. So, unfortunately, what we do see in our industry is an abuse of power.
When the perpetrator comes from a place of power, then a lot of these incidences are not being addressed for various reasons and it is apparent that reports are not being made by the victims due to fear of losing their jobs or for their personal safety.
72% of Crew that I surveyed said they have been bullied and it is a massive issue in our industry. And again, it mostly comes through poor leadership. A couple of years ago I interviewed a Chief Stew on her experience of bullying and this is what she had to say…
“The way that bullying affected me on my first vote was that it made it very difficult for me to learn the job because I was always in a state of fear of being yelled at; since everything I did was wrong.
I was new and I didn’t really know very much and I really couldn’t get the big picture of what we’re doing. And since I was always in a state of fear, I wasn’t in the present moment and I was making even more mistakes and then that just led me to get fired because I wasn’t doing a good job and I was always crying or complaining about the person that was bullying me.
Unfortunately, leadership training is not yet mandatory in our industry. There is a faulty belief system that appears to be very prominent in yachting and that is leadership comes with rank. Leadership is not an entitlement. It is far more complex than that, Leadership involves a deep understanding of self and others. Our industry is very unique in that we live and work together so we need to learn how to motivate, support and engage our team members so that they can give their best. You can’t expect your team to work it all out themselves they need to be guided through the efforts of a transformational leader.
In The Crew Coach Advanced Leadership course we dive deep into how to be a transformational leader through learning practical ways in which you can expand your emotional intelligence and show up as a 21st-century leader.
Being a leader is beyond managing your team or executing your daily responsibilities.
Now just to give you an indication of where the shortcomings are when it comes to crisis intervention and providing support what we found through the PYA survey was the following
“ I was fired”.
“ I was brushed off”.
“I had three hours to get off the boat in a foreign country. Everyone who complained or raised the issue was removed from the vessel”
70% of Crew said that they were unaware of what support is available.
My thoughts on where as an industry we can improve on are the following:
- Provide training on how to build psychological safety on board
- Increase knowledge around the nature and impact of trauma and mental health issues
- How to best manage critical incidences
- Regular audits on the workplace behaviours, culture and leadership should be conducted so that crew can speak up anonymously and we can identify any problematic behaviours that are occurring and follow through with interventions.
- Mandatory Leadership and mental health first aid training
- Thorough inductions where contracts are understood by the employee as well as the seafarers’ rights
- Options for a variety of counsellors made available for Crew to turn to for support
- Formal Training for yacht crew managers and DPA’s on mediation, grievances,
- Criminal background checks on Crew
- An external, neutral body to report antisocial or inappropriate behaviours to
- Build an effective Continuum of Care model. This is something that is certainly absent within our industry.
When I was working for the Department of Justice what we noticed was that prisoners were falling through the gaps of the system and would be put back into custody shortly after being released. The available resources and infrastructure did not bolster their recovery and rehabilitation because the available support were operating as silos rather than as a unified, cooperative system.
I believe we can certainly increase the efficiency of our system within the Superyacht industry. Various institutions such as Yacht Management companies, PYA, DPA, Nautilus, ISWAN and The Crew Coach included should be communicating together and building a seamless model whereby we not only address the issues in a timely manner but provide Crew with the support and resources they need.
Having worked with a number of yachts in implementing their HR strategy I ran a series of surveys to assess leadership, culture, Crew satisfaction and engagement. The results gave us a holistic overview of the human operation on board and assess the true crew dynamics which in turn led to providing the right interventions moving forward.
I hope that you found this article to be insightful and I hope that you can join me in advocating for this change by engaging in some of the interventions highlighted above. I would love to hear your insights and suggestions so please do get in touch.
The Crew Coach