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Original research
Turning the tide: reducing mortality among Danish merchant seafarers
  1. Kajsa Ugelvig Petersen1,
  2. Henrik Lyngbeck Hansen2,
  3. Linda Kaerlev3,4,
  4. Johnni Hansen1
  1. 1 Danish Cancer Society Research Center, Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2 Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Government of Greenland, Nuuk, Greenland
  3. 3 Research Unit of Clinical Epidemiology, Institute of Clinical Research, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  4. 4 Center for Clinical Epidemiology, Odense University Hospital, Odense, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kajsa Ugelvig Petersen, Kræftens Bekæmpelses Center for Kræftforskning, København, Denmark; kajpet{at}


Objectives While life at sea traditionally has presented a variety of potential hazards, rigorous measures have been taken in the past decades to ensure the safety and health of all aboard merchant ships. The aim of this study was to examine overall and cause-specific mortality among Danish seafarers in light of these changes.

Methods A cohort of 44 555 male (75%) and female (25%) seafarers employed on Danish ships during 1986–1999 was established through records from the Danish Seafarer Registry. Subsequently, information on vital status and causes of death was linked to members of the cohort from the Danish Civil Registration System and the Danish Register of Causes of Death using unique personal identification numbers. Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated for the seafarers using rates from a sample of the Danish employed population.

Results Among seafarers with first employment prior to 1992, the overall mortality was high, with increases observed for many individual causes of death (overall SMR 1.78, 95% CI 1.72 to 1.83 for male seafarers; SMR 1.61, 95% CI 1.48 to 1.75 for female seafarers). Mortality among seafarers employed in the following period was reduced, with only a slight remaining excess of deaths. This excess in mortality was evident primarily among non-officers on board tankers and smaller ships.

Conclusions During recent decades, mortality among seafarers has changed, replacing the traditional image of a high-risk profession with almost normalised figures compared with the general working population. Marked imbalances in mortality according to job and ship categories have persisted though.

  • maritime OH
  • mortality studies
  • accidents
  • exposure assessment

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  • Contributors All authors participated in designing the study. JH, HLH and KUP collected the data and performed the statistical analyses. All authors contributed to the interpretation of results. KUP drafted the manuscript and the remaining authors revised it critically and approved the final version submitted. JH supervised the project and was overall responsible for the study.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The study was conducted in accordance with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki and later amendments. Approval was obtained from the Danish Data Protection Agency (2018-DCRC-0052).

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

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Any request for access to the data used in this study will require permission from the Danish Maritime Authority and the Danish Cancer Society.