Thursday, 25th June
Happy Day of the Seafarers. Well…except that it isn’t. There can be no celebration this year. What is meant to be a day of positives has become poisoned, as so many seafarers sit on ships all over the world. Forced to remain, trapped at work and living in fear for their sanity, livelihoods and the safety of their families.
So no, today is not a day to celebrate. It is not a day to hope for the good, it is a day to shine a light on the bad. Reports that flag States are extending contracts when crews just want to come home. That airlines won’t take seafarers, that even their home nations will not show flexibility and pragmatism to their own people.
What we are seeing is the cold hard facts – seafarers are just tools of global trade. There is no other way to see it – people as a commodity to be discarded, forgotten and forced to work. It is good that the International Maritime Organization is hammering the message that seafarers should be recognised as “key workers”. However, the efforts are rather undermined by the sad fact the organisation is utterly toothless when it comes to enforcement.
When the world’s biggest flag States can merely see our maritime people as pawns, then what does any of this mean? Instead of the hero’s reception afforded to health workers, truck drivers and supermarket workers – who have all kept life flowing as best they can, seafarers and ships are forgotten and overlooked. One can forgive (perhaps) the ignorant and uninitiated ashore. It is something else when our own industry treats crews like nothing more than human flotsam and jetsam, left to bob around at sea until the prevailing conditions allow them to come home.
Now, it is all well and good for people and groups such as us to rattle sabres, to argue about the merits of honking horns and making some noise – we will not change a thing. Though of course, we can perhaps make ourselves feel a tad better. No, what we need is to somehow prick the consciences of those in actual power, of those with influence. Who is that person sat at a desk in a marine department who decides that seafarers won’t be let on a flight, or who approves extensions of contracts against the will of the people labouring under them?
Who are the people causing so much pain, suffering, uncertainty and unhappiness to seafarers? It is hard to know for sure, and that is actually telling. Hidden behind our maritime Wizard of Oz’s curtain sit the bureaucrats, the power brokers, the people who don’t care. These are the ones that facilitate the worst of situations, who see humans at sea as part of the hardware, a means to a seagoing end. These are the people who make the organisations, who make the decisions which cause real pain.
So, today let us think not of a day for seafarers, but of the terrible deeds and awful decisions taken by the seemingly foolish and the feckless, which impact crews and make life a misery. So, think of the bad and ugly today while tomorrow we can think of the good for seafarers and we can celebrate their deeds. We can also think of the solutions they need and the ways and means the world needs to act to get crews home, to get them rested, recuperated and recharged.
The world relies on seafarers, and they are relying on us to remind everyone.