Brussels Conference on the Wellbeing of Seafarers

On 8 March, the Brussels Conference on the Wellbeing of Seafarers brought together high-level guests from the maritime sector from all over the world. The central question of the day was: how can the international maritime community better support seafarers?

Belgian Minister of the North Sea: “The wellbeing of seafarers is one of the cornerstones of our North Sea policy. Seafarers are often away from home for long periods and daily face the challenges of this tough job. This has an impact on the attractiveness of a job in this sector. This event shows us that new evolutions in shipping can provide opportunities. In the coming months, during the Belgian EU Presidency, we will work on this to better support our seafarers.”

Seafarers: a crucial link in shipping

Shipping routes are the lifelines of our global economy: as much as 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea. Your new trousers? That tasty banana? That latest new smartphone? You can buy them thanks to shipping. Moreover, in times of climate change, shipping is the least polluting form of transport, and the sector remains committed to more sustainable technologies. Trade and climate have always been two key topics in international shipping policy. The 1.9 million seafarers are crucial for all this, but have so far remained in the shadows. They often live in rough conditions on board. Recent crises, think of the COVID-19 crisis, the war in Ukraine or the developments in the Red Sea, make this even more clear. Their wellbeing is under pressure, and a shortage of seafarers is looming.

Wellbeing in the spotlight

The Belgian EU Presidency wants to put seafarers in the spotlight, creating momentum to better support them. That is why ministers,  policy officers and maritime professionals came together at the Brussels Conference on the Wellbeing of Seafarers, hosted by the Belgian Minister of the North Sea. During several panels, they engaged in discussions on a variety of topics such as sector attractiveness and seafarer attrition.

Wish for seafarers

Throughout the day, all attendees could formulate a wish for seafarers. Those wishes are bundled in a symbolic logbook and will soon be officially handed over to the International Maritime Organization. The logbook will serve as an input for future negotiations on the wellbeing of seafarers and is thus a step forward in discussions on that topic.

Diversity and inclusion

The event took place on 8 March, deliberately coinciding with International Women’s Day. The shipping sector is a predominantly male sector. Only 1.28 per cent of seafarers are women. How do we ensure a diverse sector? The various panel discussions also addressed that question. The conference itself led by example in this respect. Indeed, half of the speakers were high-level women. A first!

Initiatives are also being launched from within the maritime sector to make it more inclusive. In cooperation with the European Commission and the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), the best initiatives were awarded an Honour for Diversity and Inclusion in Maritime. Costa Cruises, the initiative “Women Offshore” and the initiative “I exist too” won the honours for best improvement of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, best initiative against harassment, and best new initiative, respectively.