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Other Specific Services of the ISM

The Social Marine Institute is a public law entity, with its own legal personality, of national scope, within the Secretary of State for Social Security of Ministry of Employment and Social Security, with the dual aim of protecting and dealing with the social problems of the maritime and fishing sector, and managing the Special Scheme for Sea Workers of the Social Security System.

Sea workers are different from other production sectors due to the conditions of isolation, danger and mobility, that basically stems from the nature of working at sea and the boat itself, where working life consists entirely of long periods of work, except for the majority of the fishing fleet.

Isolation: the worker carries out all personal, professional and social activities on the boat. The boat is a small, isolated space, in which the people, disconnected from their social environment and isolated from their family surroundings for prolonged periods of time, are immersed in an imposed coexistence, not freely chosen, without a defined work schedule, and subject to a disciplinary system 24 hours a day.

Danger: during the working period the workers are subject to a high risk as a result of the permanent exposure to the dangers of the sea and to the harshness of the conditions of life on board: long working hours, sea conditions, shifts, inclement weather, exposure to high levels of noise...

Mobility: the fact that the boat as a workplace is mobile, varying according to the size and the needs of the operation, exposes the sea workers to biological synchronisation disorders due to the continuous changes of latitude and longitude (sleep/wakefulness and eating habits); finding special dangers or difficulties in ports, especially abroad; and in extreme cases to the risk of abandonment for various reasons: end of contract, illness, abandoning the ship, shipwreck, etc.

These contingencies and specific situations that surround maritime workers determine that, regardless of the management of the Special Scheme for Sea workers of the Social Security System, The Social Marine Institute deploys a number of operations that guarantee the protection of sea workers, and that fall within the following areas:

Health at Sea

Its purpose is to guarantee health and provide health care to sea workers on-board and abroad. The singular nature of the sector determines the differences that characterise the provision of the Health at Sea service, which is based on two basic pillars of operation: disease prevention and medical care.

The preventive level including four basic actions: medical examinations prior to embarkation, health training, prevention campaigns, and medical support for monitoring health and hygiene conditions and first-aid boxes.

The medical examination prior to embarkation deserves a special mention because it must be passed before working on board the vessel.

These free examinations are carried out by the Social Marine Institute according to the post, regularity and continuity. They must guarantee that the worker does not suffer any illness that may be aggravated by being at sea, that could incapacitate him or her for service, or that represents a health risk for the rest of the crew. Through computer terminals, connected to a single data bank in the Central Services of Social Marine Institute, the information from the medical records is entered, and can be consulted in the health care units.

Health training is the other fundamental activity for the development of the programme, as it trains all the crew in first aid and the health supervisors in how to use the first aid box correctly, and the “Onboard Health Guide”, which is essential to consult the Radio Medical Centre clearly and effectively.

The health care is provided by the following operational units:

The Radio Medical Centre, which provides a health care service by radio. A medical professional, specially trained in this subject and with extensive knowledge of the maritime world, issues a medical diagnosis in response to the consultation from anywhere in the world. He or she attends to consultations 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and has direct access to the Data Bank which holds the medical records of the workers, thus having access to the medical history of the crew member so as to be able to provide better care. His or her work does not end until the patient is discharged from medical care or admitted to hospital. If the hospital is outside of Spain, he or she will monitor the case until the patient is repatriated.

As a possible emergency centre, it is connected to the National Sea Rescue Co-ordination Centre of the State's Sea Rescue Association in case of events requiring rescue operations to evacuate the sick or injured.

The Hospital Ships and Logistics Support "ESPERANZA DEL MAR" and “JUAN DE LA COSA” are designed as health care ships set up to be hospitals, that occupy a whole deck from the bow, and with direct access to the heliport, to facilitate patient transport. Equipped with latest technological advances, with an operating theatre, laboratory, X-ray room, intensive care, isolation room and area for shipwrecked people.

The health care support provided by these two boats -one in the maritime area corresponding to the west coast Africa up to the waters of Mauritania and Senegal, and the other in the North Atlantic between the Azores and the Bay of Biscay- it has different ways of dealing with patients, depending on the pathologies that arise at any time. Medical consultations can be made by radio and outpatient consultations on board, a health care unit can be sent to ships that request it, people can be admitted to hospital on the onboard clinic and evacuations for health reasons can be made should the situation require it.

Independently of these health care activities, both ships carry out logistic support to ships that need it when their safety is affected, and provide towing and supply services, diver support and emergency repairs.

The health care centres abroad, in the geographical areas with a greater confluence of the fleets: NOUADHIBOU (Mauritania), DAKAR (Senegal), WALVIS BAY (Namibia) and the ÍNDICO Centre with temporary bases in PORT VICTORIA (Seychelles), MOMBASA (Kenya), DIEGO SUAREZ (Madagascar) carry out health and social care with Spanish doctors and professionals.

Social Services

Once the social services and functions that The Social Marine Institute carries out have been transferred to the Autonomous Communities, which is almost completed, their area of operation will be limited to attending to sea workers, who while performing professional duties are separated from their social and family surroundings, by contributing to their personal development, with tools that alleviate their distance from the cultural networks, and educational environments for professional promotion and participation in political, social and community life.

To meet the social objectives within the new framework work is being undertaken to update the existing social services and define new operations, considering the particular conditions for the sector, especially regarding isolation and mobility.

Along these lines the following services have been updated:

  • Assistance abroad for sea workers in cases of abandonment by bankrupt companies or due to capture, shipwrecks and other similar situations, supporting them and returning them home.
  • Attendance in Spain for domestic sea workers and foreign non-residents, who as a consequence of shipwrecks, accidents or any other just cause, may require urgent attention.

The creation of “Port Welfare Boards” is still being promoted and we are collaborating with those that already exist. “Port Guides” are published periodically with information on the port and the city for arriving workers.

We are working on starting up new services, of which the radio social assistance centre is worth noting.

Complementing the protective action of the Social Security System, The Social Marine Institute provides assistance to attend to the following specific situations of working at sea:

  • The loss of personal equipment due to a shipwreck or accident at sea.
  • On-board death or disappearance.
  • Transportation of dead bodies.


The Social Marine Institute offers sea workers the training necessary to ensure their level of competence, to reinforce job security and provide ships with skilled crews. This training is given in compliance with the International Regulations and Agreements regarding maritime safety and the prevention of pollution, as an effective medium for avoiding accidents at sea and pollution.

The priority training in updating the workers focuses on safety during life at sea and occupational health when working at sea; in the prevention and fight against pollution of the marine environment; in the technology of the ship, the cold, heating, electricity and electronics; in the maintenance of the ship and machinery; in information technology and in professional qualifications.

The isolated nature of maritime work makes practical training necessary for the acquisition of skills in areas where in other land-based production sectors have specific professionals, such as fire-fighting.

The National Maritime Training Centres of Bamio (Villagarcia Provincial Office) and Isla Cristina (Huelva Provincial Office) that have student residences and have technology, simulators, facilities and training resources to meet domestic demand, that due to their complexity or need for resources and facilities, cannot be imparted in the Provincial Offices.

The training and international cooperation technical programs have a special scope, of which those referring to Africa and Latin America in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation and the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation stand out.


Once the active policies of employment in the marine sector have been transferred to the Autonomous Communities, in collaboration with the National Public Employment Service, the Social Marine Institute manages unemployment benefits for sea workers.

In collaboration with the Ministry of the Agriculture, Food and Environment manages and processes the aid due to fishing moratoria or the suspension of fishing for certain species.

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