Lots of things can keep container ship captain Marcus Grotte awake at night as he sails the ocean. But lately he has been worried about another sense of falling: the morale of the crew.
As many of the world’s 400,000 merchant seafarers are still trying to find a vacation and return home, seafarer fatigue remains a problem ahead of the pandemic’s second holiday season. And not only for sailors. Their bosses are worried about mental health, as work fluctuates between frantic activity and idle time.
According to Seaexplorer.com and Swiss cargo giant Kuehne + Nagel International, as of Friday, 665 container ships were anchored awaiting port calls. This is about 10% of the total currently served worldwide. Some won’t move for a week or more.
For example, ships outside Los Angeles wait an average of more than 12 days before they can enter port. It takes almost the same amount of time to cross the Pacific Ocean from Asia. Rarely is there a shortage of work, but such delays force captains to find ways to cheer up those stuck at sea.
“This is probably what keeps me awake most of the time,” Grotte said in an interview.
Grotte, who works in Hamburg, Germany, Hapag-Lloyd said to cheer up, the crew members enjoy playing basketball, video games and ping-pong during their free time, or using the pool and gyms available on many of the larger ships. Some have gotten into guitar or drums, forming bands with colleagues on board. Others prefer another form of musical getaway: karaoke.
Sea container ships carry at least 21 crew members and officers. When they are at sea, the crew perform routine duties such as equipment maintenance, cargo safety and order on decks, while officers rotate on eight hours of duty, observing instruments and radio traffic.
For everyone on board, the days spent in port are much busier as containers are moved on and off the ship, paperwork is processed, restocking is required and more serious mechanical repairs are being undertaken.
Anchorage is something in between – neither on the move nor in port. Crews are often close enough to shore to access the local telephone networks needed to communicate with family and friends, but not close enough to easily or cheaply deliver from land. Beach leave has been cut due to travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
Regular maintenance and staffing on deck watches still need to be done, but there are ways to relax while waiting to enter the port.
“From time to time we have good live bands,” said Grotte. “Hopefully we can please the BBQ team with some team activities like watching movies or playing sports.”
The catering team can customize the menu to suit the different tastes of the crew, from Asian to European, he added.
So after a long day of watching, say on a hot day in Singapore, can the team relax with a cold frothy drink from the galley?
“If you like beer, this is possible. Usually it is in stock and you can get it, ”said Grotte. “You, of course, always have to be prepared for emergencies so that there are no unnecessary things.”