Internet access for seafarers mostly inadequate

A new study on the working and living conditions of seafarers shows considerable deficits in critical areas, particularly in the increasingly important area of Internet access. The differences between the various types of ships are considerable.

The “Social Impact Report” by the British company Idwal, which specialises in ship inspections, assesses ten critical pillars of seafarers’ well-being, including accommodation, connectivity, health and recreation. According to the authors, the results reveal significant gaps between the industry’s promises and the reality on the ground for crew members. [ds_preview]

The report finds a cumulative gap of 27.6% between current conditions and the target of 100% in each category, indicating widespread deficiencies across the industry. Significant deficiencies were identified in critical areas such as connectivity and leisure. There also appears to be wide variation between different ship types, age groups and sizes.

Worst performance in the Internet access category

The worst result is for the connectivity pillar, i.e. the provision of Wi-Fi and internet speed on board. Access to email, messaging, calls and the internet is now considered a crucial factor for seafarers’ morale, well-being and relationships with their families. The very low average score of 5.4 out of 10 for connectivity indicates that there are major shortcomings on all ships.

Idwal Social Impact Report - Konnektivität

There is a significant backlog in providing internet connectivity to the crew on general cargo ships. As this is a common type of ship, the impact is significant, according to the report. On older ships, the quality of connectivity is declining as the equipment is outdated. Larger ships of up to 125,000 GT tend to have better connectivity resources, but standards are not yet equally good across the board.

“Shipowners and operators need to make significant investments to improve internet bandwidth, Wi-Fi infrastructure and crew access solutions. Improving connectivity must balance cost, bandwidth, technical limitations on board and cyber security considerations. Despite the amendments to the Maritime Labor Convention 2006, minimum connectivity requirements are still an issue,” the report states.

Idwal Social Impact Report - Konnektivität - Schiffstypen Alter Tonnage
Connectivity assessment by ship type, age and tonnage © Idwal

“The fact that such a large percentage of ships do not have internet access seems anachronistic in an industry that is now more connected and data-driven than ever before,” it also states.

Nevertheless, more than half of the ships provide free Wi-Fi for the crew. However, the authors caveat that “meaningful connectivity” depends on sufficient bandwidth and download access. “The fact that 12.5% of ships offer unlimited free internet access is encouraging and shows that it is possible to provide this important amenity. However, this positive assessment must be qualified by the fact that an alarming 13% of ships had no internet access at all during this reporting period, which is extremely disappointing,” it says.

The report is based on data from more than 13,000 ship inspections carried out by Idwal’s surveyors. “As a data-driven company with deep roots in the shipping industry, we have a unique insight into the lived experiences of seafarers,” says Nick Owens, CEO of Idwal. “This report is an appeal to all stakeholders to prioritize tangible improvements in crew welfare, which is not only a moral imperative, but also critical to the long-term sustainability and resilience of the sector.”

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