By Mark Chillingworth
IDG Connect |
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Novelists from Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemmingway and more recently Kiran Millwood Hargrave have been moved by the sea. Its mystery, danger, power and beauty are the perfect setting for stories of adventure but also powerful friendships and relationships. Those that work on or with the sea form a powerful affinity with the deep blue. The nature of the work, long periods away from home, crew changes, and the impact of the pandemic have often left seafarers marooned. As a result, CIO Nicola Gribbin decided to take her technology leadership knowledge and co-found and develop an online social network dedicated to seafarers and the maritime community.
My Ocean Life set sail in December 2021 at a time when the shipping industry is under enormous pressure and, like many other sectors, is facing a global skills shortage. The skills shortage and help with seafarers’ welfare is what my Ocean Life aims to alleviate, which in turn will benefit the industry. “It is an idea that has been around for a while, and there was a growing feeling that there was not enough support for seafarers,” says Gribbin.
The site is open to shipping crew members and offshore workers in the oil, gas and wind farm sectors, which share similar characteristics. Members of my Ocean Life can share insights into what to do when on shore leave at the world’s famous port locations, including Singapore, Hamburg, Portsmouth, Hong Kong and many more. In addition, members can help one another by sharing insights into vessels so that a crew member can prepare for their role. They can catch up on the latest shipping news and forecast their career trajectory by joining training and mentoring programmes.
“Seafarers can be on a vessel for over two years. During the Coronavirus pandemic, they have struggled to get home if they cannot get off a vessel. With online connectivity, they knew how difficult and worrying things were at home for their families,” Gribbin says of the welfare challenges seafarers have faced during the pandemic. The Seafarers Happiness Index, collated by The Mission to Seafarers, for the third quarter of 2021 found an increasing number of crew members planning on abandoning their careers. Western Shipping, a major tanker ship operator, discovered that 20% of its 1000 mariners will not get back on a ship once they have completed their current journey. Anglo-Eastern Univa Group, a Hong Kong-based operator of 600 ships, reports a similar problem, 5% of its 30,000 mariners have told the firm they have no interest in a new contract. My Ocean Life aims to showcase the incredible talents of Seafarers to attract newcomers to the maritime industry.
Covid-19 has had a major impact on crews. Trade organisations report that there are 1.5 million crew members around the world, and many are not vaccinated because few nations treat seafarers as essential workers. Yet the world’s economy relies on them to deliver the goods that homebound knowledge workers and businesses rely on.
Seafaring is a unique career too. Visit my Ocean Life, and you can read the personal stories of what it was like to be on board a vessel that sailed through the debris of the 2004 Tsunami. Spending time looking for survivors to a major natural disaster will affect a sailor. As we have learned during the pandemic, sharing our experiences and caring for team members’ welfare is vital to recovery and long-term health.
My Ocean Life uses the freemium business model that is popular and successful amongst social media businesses. Seafarers and crew welfare charities can join the site for free, whilst revenue is generated by advertising, training offerings and a marketplace that will provide images and videos of shipping. “There are so many seafarers welfare charities, each offering something different, so we hope to bring them all together,” Gribbin says of providing the industry and its crew members with a single platform to find the welfare information and help they need. With the industry facing a serious skills shortage, My Ocean Life also provides a recruitment network where agents and ship operators will be able to advertise for the crew members they require.
Gribbin has used the WordPress open source content management technology to build my Ocean Life, and the site is hosted on Amazon AWS to ensure it has scale and flexibility to grow. WordPress can pose challenges in terms of support for the vast library of plug-ins available. Gribbin hired an AWS Expert and a WordPress specialist developer via Upwork, the freelance recruitment platform. “The biggest challenge we had was that the different plug-ins can conflict with one another, and our developer was invaluable at making sure this didn’t happen,” she says.
With the site live, in 2022 My Ocean Life has begun an ambassador programme, which has seen industry leaders such as Dr. Binay Singh becoming the Ambassador for Seafarers Welfare. Dr Singh has written a wealth of books both on seafaring and how to be a successful mariner, but also titles addressing business and self-development. Alongside his writing Dr Singh is a motivational speaker. The Odessa, Ukraine based entrepreneur and author is the founder and CEO of Singh Marine Management, a recruitment services provider and the Founder and President of the Federation of Global Maritime Community. Captain Nishant Kumar has also joined the ambassador programme to focus on seafarers’ wellbeing, recognition, recruitment and training. As well as captaining major vessels, Captain Kumar has been involved in accident and commercial losses investigations, project management, business development and data and trend analysis.
Gribbin co-founded my Ocean Life in April 2021, following over three years with a major London headquartered international ship management firm where she led the digital transformation of the business.
“The shipping industry has been so amazing to me,” she says. “We decided to create my Ocean Life as a way of giving back to the global seafaring community, providing them with their own platform in which to connect, discover and prosper. For us, this has been a journey of purpose and passion, an opportunity to empower, to support and to give back. We hope seafarers find it as rewarding to use as we have in creating it”
Sailing into a skills shortage and the disruption to productivity this can cause, the shipping industry looks to be in need of a social network that improves the welfare of its seafarers and, at the same time, provides a platform for educating crew members. Like so many sectors, shipping is undergoing significant change in order to reduce its impact on the environment and make better use of technology, my Ocean Life could be the tide that raises all ships.
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