More than one in 10 deaths on commercial ships covered by Gard have been attributed to suicide, with many of them preventable, according to new data published by the market-leading Norwegian insurer.

Gard recorded 400 onboard fatalities in the past five years across all causes on its covered vessels, with suicides representing 11% of the total.

“This is a worryingly high number and we believe that the actual number could in fact be much higher due to under-reporting,” the report said.

“We also believe that many cases of crew deaths are preventable.”

The data showed that the bulk of deaths, 74%, were linked to illness with another 15% from accidents.

The Arendal-based insurer’s Crew Claims Report 2024 examined five years of people claims data and 20,000 cases.

The club has 279 gt of shipping on its mutual protection and indemnity book, representing one-fifth of the market, and 130 gt with hull and machinery cover, representing 8%, its annual report said.

Mental disorders have consistently ranked among the top 10 most frequent medical issues, with an average of 47 cases reported annually since 2020.

The report said there had been an annual average of 18 suicides and 16 cases of missing people.

“The number of mental health-related cases unfortunately grew significantly during the pandemic, probably as a direct consequence of the mental strain and prolonged isolation many seafarers experienced at the time,” the report said.

A scientific review of seafarer welfare studies published in 2022 identified poor physical health, exposure to noise and vibration, long working hours and long periods at sea as factors for poor mental health.

Recommendations included promoting a healthy lifestyle for seafarers, allowing them to get proper rest and reducing noise on board.

“As an industry, we are unfortunately far from where we would like to be when it comes to crew fatalities and injuries,” said Lene-Camilla Nordlie, vice president and head of people claims at Gard.

“In Gard, we believe that more can be done to prevent some of these accidents, and with this report, we hope to contribute to increased transparency and constructive discussions across the industry.”

Gard said people claims amounted to close to half of all P&I claims and about 43% of amounts paid out.

It said that injury claims had increased by 44% in 2023, compared with 2020.

Last year, there were nearly 1,000 claims, the highest number from injuries from trapped fingers, burns, problems linked to heavy lifting and falls.

Injuries accounted for less than one-third of all crew claims but typically incurred higher costs compared to illnesses, often necessitating ship diversions or helicopter evacuations for treatment.

“The increase in frequency of injury claims is a clear trend since 2020 and deserves the attention of both vessel operators and seafarers,” the report said.

Covid-19 topped the list of illnesses in the five years since 2019 but dropped out of the top 10 list of most frequent cases in 2023 as the impact of the pandemic waned.

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