Brussels Conference on the Wellbeing of Seafarers | 8 March 2024

In the ever-evolving maritime sector, seafarers take center stage as the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the North Sea, Paul Van Tigchelt, hosts the Brussels Conference on the Wellbeing of Seafarers. This international ministerial event is set to take place at the Egmont Palace on International Women’s Day, the 8th of March.  

Event details  

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Paul Van Tigchelt, Belgian Minister of the North Sea: “The wellbeing of seafarers is one of the cornerstones of our North Sea policy. Seafarers are often away from home for long periods and daily face the challenges of this tough job. This has an impact on the attractiveness of a job in this sector. New evolutions in shipping can provide opportunities. Within the framework of the Belgian EU Presidency, we want to give this due attention during an international event that will be organised in Brussels on 8 March 2024.


Seafarers will play a key role for all the substantive changes and improvements to come to shipping, their wellbeing is a priority. For this reason, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the North Sea Paul Van Tigchelt is hosting the Brussels Conference on the Wellbeing of Seafarers, which will see a series of high-level panels moderated and attended by prominent people of the maritime industry, such as Ministers of maritime states and Heads of international organizations.   

Our goal is to provide a means for the participants to bring forward ideas and priorities surrounding the wellbeing of seafarers, engage in dialogue with the international shipping community and create momentum in tackling current issues affecting seafarers worldwide. Recognizing the global nature of the shipping industry, our aim is to engage the international community beyond the European scope.  

The event is focused on maritime professionals and policy makers who are working on the human element and policy related to seafarers.  


The speeches and panels to be held over the course of the one-day event will feature high-level guests such as the Minister of Transport in Ghana, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization and the President of World Maritime University amongst others.   


Welcome speech by Hon. Mr. Paul Van Tigchelt, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the North Sea of the Kingdom of Belgium

Opening remarks by 

  • Hon. Mr. Arsenio Antonio Dominguez Velasco, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)
  • Hon. Mr. Gilbert F. Houngbo, Secretary-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) through video


Keynote speech by Hon. Mr. Elmer Sarmiento, Undersecretary for the Maritime Sector of the Republic of the Philippines' Department of Transportation 


Panel 1: Sector Attractiveness 

How do we balance opening up the sector for a new workforce while preserving a strong basis for the existing workforce?   

Moderated by Max MEJIA, President of World Maritime University


  • Hon. Mr. Arsenio Antonio Dominguez Velasco, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)
  • Mrs. Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)
  • Ms. Beatriz Vacotto, Head of the Maritime Unit of the International Labour Standards Department of the International Labour Organization (ILO)
  • Mrs. Karin Orsel, President of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA)
  • Ms. Keshia Janssens, President of YoungShip Belgium and YoungShip International


“Sector Attractiveness” is a broad theme that could reflect some of the solutions the industry sees for keeping current seafarers, but also for attracting new workforce. The job description of a seafarer is rapidly changing. Highlighting maritime sector benefits is crucial as the workforce diminishes, emphasizing the need to inform young people about the advantages of a career as a seafarer.  


Coffee break 


Keynote speech by Mr. David Loosley, Secretary General & CEO of BIMCO


Panel 2: Seafarer Attrition 

Is there a shortage of trained seafarers, and how do we maintain a good level of training?   

Moderated by Mr. Gerardo A. BORROMEO, Vice-president of the Filipino Shipowners Association & Vice-Chair of the Board of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS)


  • Hon. Mr. Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, Minister of Transport of the Republic of Ghana 
  • Hon. Mr. Christos Stylianides, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy of the Hellenic Republic
  • Mrs. Johannah Christensen, Co-Founder and CEO of the Global Maritime Forum (GMF)
  • Mrs. Livia Spera, General Secretary of European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF)
  • (tbc) Mr. Rowan Van Schaeren, Director of the Antwerp Maritime Academy


The discussion on “Seafarer Attrition”, or the shortage of trained seafarers, seems to benefit from some further insights. What factors could lie at the cause of the trends we see. In this panel, we take a better look at regional differences and factors impeding the training of seafarers.  


Network standing lunch 


Honors for Diversity and Inclusion (during lunch)

Organized by WISTA Belgium with the support of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, WISTA International, the European Commission's Women in Transport EU Platform and a number of maritime transport stakeholders.

The members of the jury are:

  • Hon. Mr. Paul Van Tigchelt, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the North Sea of the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Ms. Magda Kopczyńska, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE)
  • Dr. Evette Smith Johnson, President of Women in Maritime Association of the Carribean (WiMAC) & Director at the Carribean Maritime University

Keynote remarks by Admiral Linda L. Fagan, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard through video

Keynote speech by Hon. Mrs. Marina Hadjimanolis, Shipping Deputy Minister to the President of the Republic of Cyprus


Panel 3: Women in Maritime & Inclusion  

What are ways to achieve a higher degree of inclusion and open up to the sector to all?   

Moderated by Ms. Elpi PETRAKI, President of the Women in Shipping and Trade Association International 


  • H.E. Amb. Nancy Karigithu, Member of the Governing Council of Association of Women in the Maritime Sector in Eastern & Southern Africa (WOMESA) & ISWAN Sea Ambassador for Kenya
  • Mr. Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)
  • Mr. Wilfried Lemmens, Managing Director of the Royal Belgian Shipowners' Association (KBRV)
  • Mr. Gustavo Abdiel Aguilar-Miranda, Researcher at Newcastle University & Founder and Trustee of the I Exist Too Conference in Panama


Timely on International Women’s Day, this panel intentionally explores the role of women in maritime and broader inclusion efforts. The discussion will highlight specific challenges faced by women and the LGBTQIA+ community.   

14:35  Speech by Hon. Mrs. Lydia Peeters, Minister of the Department of Mobility and Public Works of the Region of Flanders


Coffee break 

15:15 Keynote speech by (tbc) Hon. Mr. Budi Karya Sumadi, Minister of Transport of the Republic of Indonesia


Panel 4: Seafarers’ Wellbeing 

Could we improve working conditions for seafarers and remove taboos around mental health in the maritime sector? 

Moderated by Ms. Fotini IOANNIDOU, Head of the Maritime Safety Unit and Deputy Director Waterborne Transport in the Directorate General for Mobility and Transport of the European Commission


  • (tbc) Hon. Mr. Patrice Vergriete, Minister of Transport of the French Republic
  • Mr. Luc Vandenbulcke, CEO of DEME Group 
  • Ms. Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Founder of Maritime SheEO
  • Mr. Jacques Kerkhof, Federal Secretary Maritime department BTB ANTWERP
  • Dr. Khanssa Lagdami, ITF Seafarers Trust Assistant Professor of Maritime Labour Law & Policy at WMU


Much is demanded from seafarers who work far from home in often rough conditions. Their mental health is a key factor for sustainable employment. What exactly are the biggest strains on seafarers’ mental health, and what could be done to alleviate the job. This panel focuses on best practices from the sector and delves further into how policymakers can channel international efforts to ensure a sustainable environment for all seafarers.   


Closing remarks by

  • Mrs. Luisa Burgess, Alternate Permanent Representative of the Republic of Ecuador to the IMO
  • Mr. Marc Nuytemans, Vice-President for the Europe Region at Excelerate Technical Management

Closing speech by Hon. Mr. Paul Van Tigchelt, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the North Sea of the Kingdom of Belgium


End of the event 

The Honors for Diversity and Inclusion  

Scheduled on International Women’s Day, the conference underlines Belgium's commitment to inclusivity in the maritime transport sector. A dedicated panel will focus on women in the maritime sector and inclusion of underrepresented groups.  

During lunch, the award ceremony for the “Honors for Diversity and Inclusion in Maritime” will take place, in cooperation with the European Commission, WISTA Belgium, and other international members of the maritime sector.  Nominations are open for three different categories: best improvement of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, best initiative against harassment, and best new initiative. More information can be found on WISTA Belgium’s website

More information on the speakers