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September 30, 2023

A Peek into the Human Element of a Seafarer’s Life with Amri Saxena

By Aakanksha Nigam

According to the International Maritime Organization, ‘The human element is a key element in the safety of life on board ships and a contributing factor to most of the casualties in the shipping sector. Maritime safety and safety of navigation can be enhanced by strengthening the focus on the human element.’

To learn more about the human element and its importance in the maritime industry, Littoral Communications reached out to Amri Saxena, the founder/ director of Charismight.

“Charismight is a vision that aims to provide Human Element training for the Maritime and Non-Maritime Industry,” Amri said. “We passionately support the cause of mental health and the vision behind Charismight is to tirelessly work towards providing Psycho-Emotional Counselling, training, and support for the cause of wellness and growth.”

Amri told Littoral Communications that the human element is something that is inherent. It affects our performance when we are working when we are on a professional platform. 

Earlier, it was not recognized in the maritime industry as it is today. Amri said, “When we talk about the maritime industry, we usually talk about physical and technical training. Like how the engine runs on a ship or how you do navigation. But apart from these, there are a lot of things that work below the surface and can affect even the most competent person. ” She added, “There is no training for dealing with their emotions, constantly changing environments, or loneliness. So everything that’s there in your mind, may it be your family, dysfunctional team, or a brawl with your colleagues. All these things constitute human elements. It is the human element that determines the way humans behave, as well as the consequences that follow.”

She further noted that trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are largely neglected in the maritime industry, especially when there is an investigation going on or there is an accident or mishap on board. These investigations are usually undertaken by lawyers, marine experts, or captains for added information. These investigations are not backed by psychology.

Amri further explains, “There can be different types of reactions to a situation. We are programmed to react differently to different situations. On witnessing a traumatic experience, some people get very nervous, some people completely shut down, some people start crying, and some will get completely stoic. If any of these kinds of people fail to help in the investigation, people assume that they are not cooperating and often overlook the fact that they’re still trying to grapple with the fact that something horrible happened. Therefore, trauma is an integral part of the human element which affects performance in the maritime industry. “

She further claimed that the human element needs to be addressed more often “because, for seafarers, the ship is their workplace and also their home.”

When inquired about the difference between the human element and the human factor, she explained that the term “human element” is not much known outside the maritime industry. So, OCIMF SIRE came up with a more global term called “Human Factor.” She added, “The difference between the two is in the name itself. “Element” means something which is inherent, something which is there inside. whereas the “factor” is something that can be inside and it can be their environment.” She continues, “Hence, human factors refer to environmental, organizational, and job factors as well as human and individual characteristics that influence behavior at work in a way that can affect health and safety. They can be physical, cognitive, social, cultural, and emotional. The human factor encapsulates everything that is in you and is around you.”

Amri further told Littoral Communications, “Earlier, whenever a mishap used to happen, emphasis was put on training the person and tackling him as an individual, but now we handle the person and also see what was in the environment that drove that person to make that mistake. Was it the stress? Was it a bad system? Was it a faulty machine? Anything that was in the environment that caused that kind of behavior. So they would go deeper down, they would peel off the layers, they would do the root cause analysis, and they would go to the depths of it and find the root cause. So this is the basic difference between human elements and human factors.” 

In the case of conditions like anxiety and depression, what one feels constitutes the human element,  but what triggers those symptoms constitutes the human factor.

She puts emphasis on good management and leadership and says, “A bad system can beat a good person any day. You could be a very very composed person, but if you are a part of a bad system, you will not be able to perform to your fullest because the system doesn’t allow you to.”

Amri said that emotional intelligence is very important for seafarers. She said, “My first question in every session, no matter what I’m addressing, is, ‘Why are you here?’ And 99.9% of the time, I hear that it is because of the money. This is absolutely fine. But when I ask them, ‘Are you happy with what you are doing?’ Most of them say no. When asked, ‘Why are you unhappy?’, the first thing that they tell me is that they stay away from home. So my question is, what made you think that you would work on a ship and not stay away from home? That is the first requirement. So, in situations like these, emotional intelligence plays a key role. It helps you accept your situation. If one fails to understand that, there will always be some resistance, and you will never feel complete.”

“When I ask, ‘What else bothers them?’ they tell me that they take a lot of risks. I tell them there are, you know, firefighters, there are policemen, there are army men. But they don’t get this type of salary. And ‘What makes you think that you get this kind of salary?’ The answer lies in the fact that you stay away from home. They have the luxury of going back to their families in a short period of time. But if you are stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and if there is nothing to pick you out of the ship. You would be stuck there and you would be dealing with the whole idea that somebody back home is in trouble. And the salary is the compensation for that. One has to be in acceptance of this before he joins this profession.” Amri stated.

She further explained the importance of emotional intelligence through an example. “The internet is there, and that works as a boon for the seafarers as they can stay in constant touch with their families.” She added, “But it can also backfire because it keeps you in constant touch with what is happening, and therefore reaction time has been reduced.” So, everything that is happening in the family is communicated to them.

So if anything unfortunate happens to their family, they immediately get the information of same. In moments like these, if a person lacks emotional intelligence, he will react almost instantly, and once you’re emotional, you cannot be logical. So that is why emotional intelligence is very essential to make one understand how and where to react, respond, and where to draw the line.”

When asked about the hardships the seafarers had to go through during the pandemic, Amri said, “I know, seafarers who had to sail for 18 months at a stretch. They could not get down at any port. I know of cases where people died and their bodies could not be cremated and they had to keep the body in the freezer. There’s a big room to store the groceries, the produce, and the meat, especially, and there the body had to be kept. It was hard. It had to be kept there for months, and it was a tough time. People were finding it very difficult to deal with. People who were stuck on the ships were stuck on the ships, and people who were stuck at home were stuck at home. They could not go back on the ships because the industry works on a contract basis. The contract is for three months or four months. They get a salary when they sail, and when they stop sailing, they don’t get anything. So people who were stuck back home were suffering from a financial crisis.” 

She added, “There was a desperation to get back on the ships. And desperation to get down the ships because a lot of ports were not allowing them to get down. Not only that, they were already in this constant fear of their family is in danger. To sail with that kind of thought was not at all easy. And that person was completely helpless, not knowing when he would go back to even see his family. Nevertheless, our seafarers kept it going, so kudos to them for their hard work.”

The merchant navy officers and seafarers had to be given the key worker’s label because, despite everything, there was not a single day when the shipping industry stopped. Every single day, the cargo was imported or exported from one place to another. Due to that, we never felt anything that was lacking. We’ve got everything from essentials to nonessentials. 

Charismight has various courses to help and assist seafarers to make their lives a lot easier. They have courses on emotional intelligence, change management, environmental management, family counseling, mental health and well-being program, Sea Merit assessment, and a lot more. Amri told Littoral Communications that they use protective techniques and also counsel them as a psychologist. 

Amri said that apart from these courses, there are a lot of things that need to be done to minimize the hardships of seafarers. By ensuring their safety, openness in communication, improving the quality of life on board, treating shore leaves as necessary, maintaining a happiness quotient on board, parties, and other recreational activities to cheer up the crew, inclusivity, free from any bias, may it be gender, nationality, or culture; companies should cater not only to the seafarers but also to their families, not just through monetary benefits but also by including them in their seminars and vacations. These are very small things, but many a time, these things are not taken seriously but can have a huge impact on seafarers.

Amri told us that many a time, cadets tell her, that they joined Merchant Navy because they couldn’t get into any other prestigious engineering college. It was their last resort. Amri finds this whole mentality problematic.

She believes, “If you’re opting for something as a last resort, you will not be invested in it. I want to tell them that an engineering college might require a certain set of skills, but in the maritime industry, to survive on a ship, the skill sets are completely different.” She continues, “You may not need the very high technical expertise, or you may not require a very, high mathematical calculations of physics. But it is a demanding job and requires a person who is resilient, who can bounce back, who can take the stress, who can stand on their feet for 18 hours at a stretch, and who can handle bad weather conditions. So it’s a different skill set altogether. There is no comparison, for even a brilliant engineer might not be able to survive on the ship without these skills.”

She further urges the seafarers to respect their uniforms if they want to respect themselves because a person who thinks they’re not good enough might not be able to put up with the demands of this job.

Amri concluded by saying, “I have advice for the seafarers, that apart from sea life, they should work on their own personal development. Try to keep yourself updated to avoid feeling alienated when you get back home. Always remember that you are bigger than your job, and this job isn’t the only thing that can define you. Have a hobby, be creative, read books, and work on your personal development. It will keep you mentally healthy and will also give you a purpose in life.”

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