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Highlighting issues around IMO's Day of the Seafarer

Highlighting issues around IMO's Day of the Seafarer
Without seafarers there would be no shipping industry and the world would be a much poorer place. It is good therefore that the IMO holds its annual Day of the Seafarer celebration, however, there is still much that can be done to make seafaring a more recognised and attractive career.

“Seafarers operate on the ‘front line’ of the shipping industry, and this year’s campaign theme, Faces of the Sea, aims to highlight the individuals that are often unseen,” said Koji Sekimizu, IMO secretary-general, in his annual Day of the Seafarer message. While this is indeed true improving the working conditions of seafarers is also key.

It has become an increasingly marginalised career and the promise of "seeing the world" no longer holds the lustre it once did as many careers offer that opportunity today. The way modern shipping works it is likely the seafarer will see little apart from his ship and maybe the occasional port, assuming the local authorities even are willing to let the crew down the gangway.

In his message Sekimizu noted the soon to be in force Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). “This marks significant progress in the recognition of seafarers’ roles and the need to safeguard their well-being and working conditions,” he said. It is indeed a very positive step, although how well adhered to or enforced it will be remains open to question.

Even as the Day of the Seafarer is celebrated by the IMO seafarers are stranded unpaid in foreign ports on the vessels of companies that have declared bankruptcy. The plight of the crews on vessels belonging to the bankrupt Taiwanese owner TMT have hit the headlines in recent months with seafarers left stranded and unpaid for up to six months.

At lower end of the industry safety standards are in some cases shockingly poor. The nickel ore trade between Indonesia and China is a prime example claiming the lives of up to 81 seafarers in three years, yet action from the international authorities is still awaited.

The criminalisation of seafarers remains a real issue, with detaining the master and senior officers seemingly a standard course these days in major casualties. Basic rights such as shore leave are also not guaranteed. The threat of piracy, brutal attacks and hostage taking is also a very real one for hundreds of thousands of seafarers.

It is good the IMO annually highlights the unseen role of the seafarer, but there is also still much it, governments and the industry can do to ensure the role of seafarers is given its proper recognition and protection on a daily basis.

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