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Merchant seafaring: a changing and hazardous occupation
  1. Marcus Oldenburg,
  2. Hans-Joachim Jensen
  1. Department of Maritime Medicine, Hamburg Port Health Centre, Institute for Occupational and Maritime Medicine (ZfAM), University of Hamburg, Hamburg State Department for Health and Consumer Protection, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Marcus Oldenburg, Department of Maritime Medicine, Hamburg Port Health Centre, Institute for Occupational and Maritime Medicine (ZfAM), Hamburg State Department for Health and Consumer Protection University of Hamburg, Germany, Seewartenstrasse 10 D-20459 Hamburg, Germany; marcus.oldenburg{at}

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What this paper adds

  • Today, a seafarer's career is characterised by increasing stress, particularly psychosocial stress.

  • The knowledge gained from scientific studies carried out so far is insufficient with regard to the severity of psychosocial strain and possibilities of its prevention. Therefore, comprehensive investigations of the stress and strain on board need to be carried out in the form of maritime field studies.

Currently, the world's merchant fleet encompasses more than 50 000 vessels.1 Approximately 90% of the goods traded worldwide are transported by sea; international transport is the basis for the global division of labour. The goods are transported on container ships, bulk carriers and oil tankers, chemical tankers, reefer ships, general cargo ships and other specialised ships (eg, vessels for the transport of cars, livestock carriers and off-shore supply vessels). This manuscript focuses mainly on merchant seafaring, particularly on the situation on board container ships, the most important ship type in the merchant maritime industry. In recent years, seafaring has undergone economic and technological change.2 This change has been characterised by:

  • The introduction and current dominance of container vessels and their integration into worldwide transport chains.

  • The quick turnaround time of vessels with short stays in port due to high costs. Furthermore, the loading/unloading process in ports has been distinctly improved. Thus, the duration of stays in port has been shortened in the past 30 years (from 2 or 3 days to currently 1 day at the maximum).

  • An increase in the gross tonnage of container ships with more than 15 000 standard container units (twenty-foot equivalent units, TEUs).

  • The selection and preference of ports with increasing depths due to the ever-growing vessel sizes. These ports are normally far away from the cities and crew members are hardly able to go ashore during the short stays in port. Since 2004, the initially free access to …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.