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Drug use: a look at the growing problem in the marine industry

Posted on 27th November 2016

One of the most unfortunate trends in the marine industry of recent years is undoubtedly the rise in the number of accidents at sea for which drug use has been a contributory factor.

Far from a matter of relevance solely to the drug user themselves, drug abuse can have a greatly detrimental effect on the safety of not only the user, but also everyone on board a vessel for which they are responsible. This makes drug use an issue that simply must be addressed by shipowners, operators and employers alike.

How have drugs become such a big issue on board ships?

While the nature of life as a seafarer – including long periods away from the attractions and entertainments accessible to their on-shore counterparts – has long led to a strong desire to indulge in certain temptations, in the past, these have often taken the form of alcohol and the opposite sex, rather than necessarily drugs.

This situation unfortunately appears to have changed in the last few years, potentially bringing new safety hazards for which employers may be ultimately criminally and civilly liable. There are many ways to identify those who may be under the influence of drugs while on board a ship, including by spotting such symptoms as sudden unexplained mood changes, unusual irritability and aggression and a tendency for confusion, but whatever the exact signs, the drug user can unquestionably suffer both physical and mental harm.

Not only is physical coordination adversely affected when a seafarer is under the influence of drugs – thereby making him a danger to everyone around him – but drug abuse also impacts on how he thinks, perceives and feels, with memory, concentration and judgement all potentially impaired. Unsurprisingly, a crew member’s deterioration in performance as a result of his drug abuse can also quickly render him unemployable. All in all, it’s easy to see why drug use is one of the most worrying issues affecting the marine industry today.

How can the marine industry drug epidemic be tackled?

The Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) published its Guidelines for the control of drugs and alcohol onboard ship in June 1995, recommending that shipping companies “have a clearly written policy on drug and alcohol abuse that is easily understood by seafarers as well as shore-based staff.” It also advised that “seafarers be subject to testing and screening for drugs and alcohol abuse by means of a combined programme of unannounced testing and routine medical examination.”

Here at Martek Marine, we have played a leading role in encouraging and enabling genuinely random and effective drug testing in the marine industry through our provision of the Narcoscreen™ saliva-based drug testing kit. This kit covers all nine of the drug types in the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Standards, while its ease and speed of use also allows for genuinely unpredictable, on-the-spot drug testing, both at sea and in port.

This latter point is an especially significant one, given that when expensive and time-consuming traditional drug testing is used, complete with the need for external contractors, crew can often predict when the next test is due, which makes it easier for them to avoid detection.

Call upon Narcoscreen™ as your own drug testing solution as a shipowner, operator or employer, and you can better enable that you are fulfilling all of your obligations towards your employees in terms of keeping them safe at sea, while helping to fight one of the most talked-about and increasingly widespread problems in the marine industry today.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you with your drug detection requirements, please give a member of our team a call or send us an email