EducationOrganisationsPorts & TerminalsSeafarersWorldwide

Safe drinking water for seafarers

Each month, ISWAN shares a discussion piece written by a member of the maritime industry who can offer a unique or interesting perspective on an aspect of seafarers’ welfare. This month, Giorgos Kyriazis of P Ship Systems discusses the overlap between providing safe, clean drinking water for seafarers and protecting the marine environment.



Giorgos Kyriazis is passionate about protecting seafarers and the environment through the latest environmental, health and safety initiatives and technologies, ensuring compliance with all industry regulations. Giorgos is an Associate at P Ship Systems, which provides a series of cost-effective, autonomous and quickly deployable water treatment solutions for vessels, covering various vessel areas.

Systems treat and produce cold, hot and ambient temperature drinking and cooking water, of superior quality at different water production capacities daily. Field-tested systems deemed P Ship Systems ‘Best Practise for Drinking Water’ by three reputable Oil Majors, highly technologically advanced yet simple to operate, operating non-stop on many vessels sailing globally, and fully backed-up with ongoing long-term user support.

International shipping companies are carrying approximate 85% of the world’s trade. It would simply not be possible to move goods around the globe without shipping. More than 75,000 ships operate internationally and carry all different kinds of cargo. The real heroes behind the scenes that the world does not see are our seafarers, an estimated more than 1.89 million, who make sure the global economy keeps going no matter what. One of the essentials humans need to survive is water, and for seafarers, having fresh, safe drinking water on board is critical. However, this brings challenges for shipping companies and there are many factors to consider, including our industry’s sustainability and impact on the environment.

The degradation of our oceans

Ocean industries have been estimated by some studies to be worth up to US$2.5 trillion. Billions of people rely on the oceans for their food and way of life. Nevertheless, despite the importance of this crucial ecosystem, human activity has been contributing to the decline in ocean health. Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged swift action to address the current ‘Ocean Emergency’ at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

A recent study from Science states that more than 10 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year – plastic which takes hundreds of years to degrade. A considerable amount of this is microplastics: small fragments and fibers that come from manufactured or synthetic textiles, or the breakdown of larger plastic debris. Microplastics are now discovered everywhere, including in human blood, drinking water, seafood, and the ocean and its delicate marine ecosystems.

A ship’s main source of drinking water is plastic bottled water, but plastic pollution is a pervasive issue that jeopardizes a variety of aspects of ocean health and has wider social and economic ramifications, including impacts on livelihoods, food safety and security, human health, coastal tourism, and other areas. It is our responsibility as an industry to do something about it.

A risk to seafarers’ health

Crucially, we also have the health of our seafarers to consider. Seafarers operating on commercial ships worldwide are incredibly exposed when they have to drink from onboard water supplies day in, day out, over several years.

The supply and transfer chain for ship drinking water typically consists of three main elements:

  • the water source entering the port
  • hydrants, hoses, water boats, and water barges, where this water transfer process offers numerous opportunities for the introduction of contaminants into the drinking water
  • the ship’s water system, which includes storing, distributing, and producing drinking water on board using resources found overboard like seawater

A port receives potable water from either a public or private source and typically has special plans in place for managing this water once it has arrived. It was discovered though that some ports did not provide a reliable source of water. In these instances, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, Giardia lamblia, and Cryptosporidium outbreaks were linked to contaminated water bunkered from ports. Outbreaks were linked to factors like cross connections between potable and non-potable water, inadequate disinfection, contaminated water supplied at the port, contaminated bunkered water, and poor design and construction of potable water storage tanks.

Ingestion of water contaminated with pathogens derived from human or other animal excreta is the primary cause of the majority of waterborne outbreaks of disease on ships. Even though chemical incidents are much less frequently reported than microbial ones, illnesses brought on by chemical water poisoning have also happened on ships.

Reverse osmosis, desalination and evaporation processes used to produce potable water on board can each have their own set of potential health issues. Ships therefore have complicated water storage and distribution systems where bacterial contamination is a risk when it comes to drinking water onboard for crew. In addition, because there isn’t much room on ships, heat sources and hazardous materials, like sewage or waste streams, are likely to be nearby potable water systems.

However, as ISWAN states in its 2018 hydration campaign report, working on board can present seafarers with factors that may make it challenging to remain adequately hydrated, such as physically demanding job roles, working in very hot environments, and distrust of water on board due to taste or appearance, which we have observed in our global operations and the feedback we receive daily. Dehydration can have a negative impact on a seafarer’s health and can cause or worsen certain diseases such as kidney stones. It can also affect a seafarer’s ability to be productive at work. However, at present, little research exists on the hydration of seafarers.

A sustainable solution

As an industry, we can take care of the health of both our seafarers and our planet, providing high-quality, safe and constantly freshly treated and produced drinking and cooking water while being environmentally responsible. The shipping industry has much to do to reduce its environmental impact, and onboard drinking water solutions which do not contribute to plastic pollution of our oceans should be part of this.

A variety of solutions are offered on a ‘We have a system for you – here it is’ approach without, as it turns out, any specialized knowledge or attention paid to drinking water for ships alone. P Ship Systems designs, creates, develops, produces and distributes plug-and-play vessel water processing units and offers ongoing, long-term support for users. Our systems meet shipping’s needs for dependable sources of potable water and eliminate problems with quality as well as the need for bottled water onboard.

It is our goal, and should be the industry’s, to protect the marine environment and at the same time provide cleaner, greener water to ships around the world.

This article is shared by courtesy of the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN)

For more articles about seafarers, click here.

Narjiss Ghajour

Editor-in-Chief of Maritime Professionals
Back to top button