Volunteers help seafarers facing mental health crisis

Volunteers help seafarers facing mental health crisis

With his ship docked in Townsville, the first port of call for Tarun Grover is to find a local guide to take him scuba diving.

He said he hopes to see a lot of small fishes around and corals.

It's a nice experience to be doing scuba. I've done snorkelling before, not scuba diving. During the epidemic, Mr Grover spent more than six months on the water, without leaving the ship once.

He says he knows not to take shore leave for granted because of the tough time.

It's not a good thing to keep seafarers on board all the time, said Grover.

Mr Grover and his colleagues are lucky to be on land as some international shipping companies continue to deny staff shore leave due to the risk of COVID - 19 in Australia.

Graham Miller, a Townsville-based volunteer who helps seafarers with their needs on and off the ship, warns that a mental health crisis is unfolding among seafaring workers.

If COVID is rampant in their country or around them, companies tell the captains of ships and masters of ships, Don't allow shore leave unless it's absolutely necessary'', he said.

Seafarers are finding it very hard to cope with the restrictions and stay on board what some of them call prison ships.

Melissa Anderson, volunteers, send care packages to ships in Gladstone.

She said that the owners are very scared that if their crew comes ashore and contract COVID, they have to travel together in close quarters.

They aren't overly enthusiastic with pushing for shore leave for crew members. Volunteers in Queensland are doing what they can to lift the spirits of crew members who are not allowed to leave the ship.

Welfare packages with sanitary products, warm clothes and magazines are common, but some donations include hand-knitted beanies from the community.

In Townsville, beanies were included for Ukrainian seafarers in the color of their nation's flag.

Maritime Industry Australia chief executive Angela Gillham said it had heard about international companies refusing shore leave but was not clear how widespread the problem was.

The lack of allowing seafarers to take shore leave has had a huge mental health impact.