Seafarers’ wellness programme

Johan Smith, port chaplain of ICMA member the Christian Seaman’s Organisation has devised a wellness programme to train seafarers.   He is currently presenting a pilot of the training programme in collaboration with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town.  The training is expected to be eventually rolled out internationally.  

Johan Smith, CSO

Johan Smith conceived, initiated and authored the Wellness Programme. The finished product will be  witness to widespread collaboration within the international seafarers’ welfare sector.  Smith was given leave of absence by his employer, Christian Seaman’s Organisation, to develop the programme having appreciated its value to seafarers’ wellbeing. Most of the content is Smith’s original work,  but several of ICMA’s partners in the welfare sector have contributed,  including the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (content on piracy awareness, -response and -resilience), the International Committee on Seafarers Welfare (Seafarers Health Information Programme – SHIP – material), SeafarerHelp, the Center for Seafarers Rights and Seafarers Rights International.  The pilot programme has been developed and presented to cadets under the auspices of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and, it is expected to be accredited by ICMA for wider presentation. The pilot was made possible by a grant received from the ITF Seafarers Trust.

Johan Smith has written in the ICSW News of October 2012, explaining the scope of the Wellness Programme:


So, how are you doing?  …  Fundamentally, this is the question a wellness program asks.  At first glance it is a seemingly simple question, one we answer a hundred times each day.   But if you dwell for a moment and take time to answer, you soon realise that it is way more complex, and justifies more than a simple ‘I’m fine’ answer.  Fact is that each of us is complex, multi-dimensional, holistic and highly unique human beings.

So how about seafarer training?  Does it cater for seafarers who are complex, multi-dimensional, holistic and highly unique human beings … or is it one-dimensional, only focused on the practicality of how to steer a ship from point A to point B?
An old school of thought would argue that developing seafarers is all about developing the practical, technical, occupational aspects of who they are.  Other areas are often viewed as not important, even non-relevant and it would be argued that an individual is responsible for the development of the other areas by him-/herself.  

A modern school of thought, however, argues that one aspect is closely related to the next.  In the end, all the different aspects are intertwined to ultimately form you as a whole person and as seafarer.   So true; a seafarer must have excellent knowledge of how to steer a ship but a seafarer who is not capable of handling diversity, managing conflict, keeping mentally and physically healthy, just to name a few, is as good as having a seafarer with no training at all.   
So why not train seafarers differently?

Why not train seafarers in a Holistic, Multi-Dimensional, Pro-active and Humanitarian way?  

… Holistic in the sense that it considers and acknowledge all aspects of being human as integral to being seafarer –  Financial, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical, cultural, occupational and environmental …

…  Multi-dimensional in the sense that historically training of seafarers is one dimensional – occupational.  The program introduces a philosophy that argues that, to ably steer a ship from point A to Point B, you also need cultural competence, emotional intelligence and spiritual wellbeing just to name a few.

…  Pro-active in the sense that most services concerning seafarer welfare are re-active. Only once a problem arises, there is reaction. The program wants to introduce knowledge and skills in order to empower and equip, prevent rather than cure, minimize instead of react …

 … Humanitarian in the sense that it wants to promote human- and seafarer welfare.  But also humanitarian in the sense that its focus has humans at heart as the centre point which industry revolves around.   It chooses to be person-centred instead of problem-centred.

Currently, a new program introducing this approach is developed in South-Africa.  The program, sponsored by the ITF Seafarer’s Trust, is still in the pilot phase and is currently presented at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town.  It introduces twelve different aspects of being seafarer over a twelve week period.  Partners such as the ITF, Seafarer’s Rights International, ICSW and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme are all contributing to make this program as holistic possible.  We hope that this initiative will soon be rolled out at maritime schools in Africa and eventually throughout the world. I believe that this program can have a profound impact on the day to day lives of the seafarers we are so passionate about.

So, a question … how are you doing?

Johan Smith