When a New Jersey seaman leaves port, the commitment to the service of the vessel could include both day and nighttime duties. According to International Maritime Health, the shift work combined with conditions on the ship can interrupt a seaman’s internal schedule and prevent deep sleep, leading to fatigue.
Fatigue has been found directly related to accidents, injuries and fatalities at sea. The British Marine Investigation Branch studied hundreds of incidents that suggested a link between many collisions and other night accidents and fatigue of the person assigned to lookout duty. The U.S. Coast Guard also performed a study of 279 vessel accidents, and of the seamen affected by those incidents, 33 percent of the injuries and 16 percent of the deaths were fatigue related.
In the short term, fatigue affects mental processes, alertness and judgment, as well as physical responses such as strength, balance and speed. Chronic effects of fatigue include sleep disorders such as insomnia, gastrointestinal issues such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Some cancer research even indicates that shift work might be carcinogenic.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, there are international standards for the amount of time a seaman may be on duty and the minimum number of hours that should be taken for rest. This information should be documented, but studies indicate that pressures of the job lead many to violate reporting requirements. Seamen participating in research have consistently claimed that they do not have the opportunities they need to get the sleep necessary for their health.