Qwest calls for greater emphasis on mental health at sea

Qwest, a partnership bringing together marine insurance provider West of England P&I Club and legal and claims consultancy C Solutions, has today called for greater emphasis to be placed upon mental health when determining the severity of a maritime casualty.

Under UNCLOS Article 94, "Each state shall cause an inquiry to be held...into every marine casualty or incident of navigation on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury..."

A "serious injury" is typically defined by a flag state as one that incapacitates someone to such an extent that they cannot function normally for more than 72 hours, and the injury starts within seven days of when the injury was suffered.

Qwest points out that in practice, however, "serious injuries" are much more frequently diagnosed when there is an obvious physical impact such as loss of eyesight, a broken bone, or unconsciousness. This it says is due, in part, to a generally limited understanding of the symptoms of mental injury onboard ships, which makes it difficult to diagnose a mental injury without specialist professional assistance. Common conditions in the aftermath of a casualty can also have a delayed onset, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Chris Telford, director of Qwest, said: “Incidents are usually the result of a series of errors; they are rarely caused by a single mistake. When we consider how a casualty happened, it’s usually possible to trace the root cause back to a number of discrete – often individually minor – events. However, the aftermath of these situations is anything but small. The industry must ensure that all processes, especially those where a crew is facing additional levels of stress or trauma, are handled – as we do with Qwest Care – in a way that puts welfare first.”

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Glynn-Williams (pictured) added: “Interviews are critical for owners and insurers after a casualty, but conventional interview processes do not take this trauma into account. Ordinarily, crew members would be interviewed immediately after the incident in a high-stress environment where seafarers often worry about blame, responsibilities, and outcomes, and any pre-existing everyday tensions."

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