The Ebola outbreak did serious damage on the global maritime landscape where many seafarers had suffered due to this outbreak. However, Ebola is not the only dangerous disease at sea therefore it is worth discussing other infections which are equally as dangerous as Ebola.
Dilipan Thomas of marineinsight.com (2014) has written about the 7 dangerous diseases seafarers should be aware of where most of them are contracted through completion of certain tasks; hard-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) contracted during operation of power tools alongside muscoloskeletal disorder (MSD) which is contracted during offshore operations and 12 hour work schedules.
Ebola, in maritime context is not as deadly when it comes to the morbidity index as more seafarers die due to cardio-vascular diseases/CVD and cancer; estimated 17 million deaths worldwide. (Oldenburg, Institute of Occupational and Maritime Medicine ZfAM, 2014) Along with this, it is worth mentioning that health care (treatment and diagnosis) aboard rely on actions and knowledge/experience of officers in charge of medicine; leaving crew to manage casualties for several days and occasionally months before reaching professional healthcare shoreside.
In recent decades, the merchant seafaring landscape has experienced significant changes in the working and living conditions of the personnel. One of those changes are the decrease of crew members thus distribution of tasks and responsibilities for a single crew member increases; decreasing the total number of crew from 30 to 20. Another aspect concerning crew is frequent changes to existing rosters which is further increased in impact with short port rotation of vessels; both shortening shore leave and decreasing chances of forming a confidential social system aboard. Increasing the physical and mental stress among crew members.
The environment aboard the ship has a more direct impact on seafarer’s health and sometimes contracted instantly; all factors associate with the ecology aboard. The paint used on deck, for instance releases fumes (containing lead and other metals) that affect the brain and prolonged exposure can lead to cancer. Alongside the above, cargo is another factor where coal and oil, for example pose health hazards where fumes from coal and crude oil will cause respiratory problems.
Leading to the most influential factors of CVDs and cancer development; chemicals, work stress and lack of exercise. Firstly, the formation of the most common forms of cancer aboard; leukemia, renal, lymphoma and lung cancer all associate due to carcinogens found in cargo; examples are beryllium, cadmium and lead; found mostly on product tankers, decks and engines. However, personnel working on oil, chemical and product tankers are twice as likely to contract brain cancer and leukemia. Finally, formation of a cancerous tumor is also augmented by long working hours (more responsibilities for each individual) therefore lack of sleep, longer working hours, passive smoking and exposure to UV rays contribute to development of cancer.
Regarding CVDs, the main causes also involve longer working hour stress where aforementioned ideas of multi-tasking and responsibilities. Shorter leisure time contributes to this in ways that seafarers can’t exercise in the onboard gym facilities (common nowadays) therefore increasing chances for CVD development. Lack of exercise is another factor aside from medicine which seafarers can do themselves. However, the lack of motivation and leisure time hampers this endeavor.
While cancer is more dangerous it is easier to avoid as it relates to exposure to carcinogenic environment which can be controlled or its impact decreased with specialised measures such as HAZMAT suits and more control over the substance itself; CVD is harder to combat in terms of not only investment from shipping companies themselves but employee motivation from sides of officers and seafarers.
Firstly, shipping companies should invest not only in onboard fitness equipment for seafarers to physically develop endurance and their physical condition to improve performance on duty as well as their health. Installation of equipment and motivating/encouraging are different matters where the latter requires input from the management, officers and employees themselves. Beginning a possible campaign can be the installation of gym equipment such as treadmills, medical equipment such as ECG machines. High-ranking officers should provide inspiration for seafarers to take up exercise.
Another way of fighting CVD are medical refresher courses for crew responsible for healthcare which will raise awareness for the disease and its causes as well as what to do to avoid it; giving special focusing to diagnosis and treatment. Finally, seafarers must be educated on their health and how it relates to their life in their line of duty; emphasising on how better health means better performance.