“Preparing for when the cruise industry restarts, and the lines will be looking for the best talent again, I think that talent, those people, will want to know they have (medical) coverage that stretches beyond just the contractual period aboard, but will also keep them healthy and safe during the time they are signed off,” said Andrew Dudzinski, Chairman and CEO of MHG.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, MHG has evolved with the needs of the industry, Dudzinski said, starting with mainly medical coverage and expanding with a range of employer-paid benefits.
“We have expanded our range of products over the years, and that is our ambition as we go forward, to stay even with and even in advance of the industry as it expands.
“We are absolutely here for the industry, trying to define their needs and offer solutions.
“We already offer retirement savings plans and I believe that this is the next level of benefits,” he added.
In addition to medical coverage for officers and crew, that can be year-round or for vacations only, other MHG products include disability income protection and sick pay, accidental death and dismemberment, life insurances, and retirement savings plans, as well medical and liability coverage for concessionaries and contractors aboard ships, and coverage for shore excursion providers ashore.
“We encourage cruise lines to look long term, “Dudzinski said. “It is unlikely that they will cover everybody, full time, right away; it usually starts at the supervisory level. But as we go along, we encourage them to improve the benefits and provide more benefits to more people over a period of time.”
He said that MHG is also working closely with industry and seafarer associations supporting the health and safety of seafarers.
Not Cutting Back
“I think most HR managers would love to provide more benefits, but at the end of the day it is a budgetary item so right now it would be difficult to convince a cruise line to add benefits. However, every single cruise line plan we had before COVID-19 started, we still have. The cruise lines have not withdrawn benefits from their crews.
“When cruising starts up again, we will meet with the lines and work with them cooperatively to see if we can expand the range of coverage and the number of people covered.”
While crew is covered onboard through the cruise lines’ obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention, it is when they are home that are vulnerable, Dudzinski noted.
“They want to know that if they get ill or have an accident, they will get proper medical treatment, so they can come back for their next contract. It is also in the interest of the cruise lines that the crew they have trained come back. And this coverage is not expensive.”
He said that several cruise lines offer full time coverage that will respond to anything whether it happens onboard or on vacation. Typically offered to officers, they also have option of adding their families to the plan.
MHG is headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale and also has offices in Hamburg and on the Isle of Man. “We are licensed to operate as an insurance broker in Europe and through other licenses throughout the world,” Dudzinski noted.
He funded MHG together with John Haagensen, who is co-founder and director, in 1991, and said they have been able to evolve the programs and the relationships with the underwriting markets and the marine industry as a whole. In addition to having most of the cruise lines as clients, the company also serves large, private luxury yachts.
“We have grown from just John and me to an organization employing 36 people in three different countries,” Dudzinski said.
“We always made sure that the insurance companies behind our products were fully adapted to the needs of the marine environment. That has in turn enabled us to offer programs that are relevant and solid.
“Our experience is unique; there is nobody else that does exactly what we do. And I think it is important, and I have said it before, that we anticipate the needs of the (cruise) industry. We do not wait and react, we are proactive.”
Today, more than 60,000 seafarers are participating in the different MHG programs.
It comes down to creating benefit programs that deliver a competitive advantage to the employer, but also demonstrate appreciation for officers and crew. With increasing competition for crew and officers, an attractive benefits package may just tip the scales in a cruise line’s favor.