To the many citizens of our country, Seamen and seafaring has only recently been put under the spotlight with the advent of our oil and gas industry, which is much to my satisfaction, but throughout my many conversations with my fellow citizens, there still remains uncertainty and misinformation about this industry. However, this is understandable and it is my duty to help educate my fellow citizens, to gain a better appreciation for this industry that is and has always been a necessary service/goods provider to our nation and all countries around the world.
All countries worldwide import goods such as – Farming and Mining Equipment; Household Amenities; Food Items; Clothing; Building Materials; Medical Supplies; Fuel to operate Power Grids and Production Industries, via the sea route.
To many, these items may seem insignificant but let me hasten to add that some countries do not have an Industrial Manufacturing Sector that can produce these essential items, which by no fault of their own may be caused by the unavailability of natural resources, and should the shipping industry come to a halt, we would starve for these very items, and even stagnate as a country because of shortages of what we sometimes term as “everyday goods”.
Many people do not realize that more than 80% of the world’s trade is carried by sea (www.imo.org), and without the daily/weekly shipment of these supplies, many countries would face severe consequences. And this is why the old saying that “the sea is the giver and sustainer of life”, holds true from the beginning of time to this day.
At this time in our World’s history, we, as the world at large, are facing the existential threat of the Covid-19 virus, which has become a crippling pandemic threatening our very way of life, and everyone has banded together to do our best against this deadly pandemic. We have utilized every available means and method available to battle this virus on every front, and it is up to us to be thankful to all of our essential workers who are on the frontline in this deadly war. But sometimes, we do not recognize our other equally essential industries who are silently facing and backing up our frontline workers, and the important service they render us and by this I mean our shipping industry.
I proffer this thought to all readers – medicine and medical supplies are being shipped daily at record number and speeds at this point in history to all parts of the world. It is with the gravest of considerations that I ask this question – what would happen if even for a day this integral and essential shipping industry was held up and medical goods could not be delivered? What would be the effects?
I cannot even begin to fathom the immense ricochet effect this would have on the world at large, and this is why I crave that special emphasis and care be placed on this industry and by extension on the back bone, heart and lifeblood of this industry- the Seafarers. I hasten to inform that some seafarers were contracted to work on board vessels for some 6-8 or more months prior, and would have completed their sea service at or around January 2020, which is when China began instituting lockdowns, of which the world was to soon follow. This would have halted the many crew changes that would have occurred at that time. We are now in June of 2020 and some five months would have passed since the initial lockdown, which means some seafarers would now have been on their respective vessels for some 11-13 months due to travel restrictions, not at home with family but 11-13 months on a floating metal contraption measuring approximately 50-300ft in length and 10-50ft width, with minimal access to family, comfort and support, and with an average work day of 8-12 hours day in day out, month in month out; a full 11-13 months of scheduled wake, eat, work, sleep, repeated ad infinitum.
Now, take a moment to imagine that… With lockdown being as uncomfortable as it is for all of us who are ashore, imagine how it must be for Seafarers and even their families who have been without them during this trying period. Mental health is important and to have our essential personnel face such an enervating situation for 11-13 months with almost no end in sight, is agonizing.
My only request is that Maritime Authorities the world over be more proactive in effecting crew changes for the wellbeing and comfort of our essential human resource – the Seafarers, as they create and enact guidelines and laws in this Covid-19 era, or we may begin to have extremely undesirable experiences when it comes to the physical and mental well-being of our Seafarers as they carry out their respective duties onboard.
We need to conscientiously embrace that human touch in dealing with our Seafarers, even as we observe the new normal of social distancing.
Marine Cadet Officer
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