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Go to sea and don’t see the world!

Photo: ITF Abandoned seafarers protesting
The crew of the Ula abandoned off Kuwait
The plight of seafarers through the dark days of the pandemic has been shared widely in the run-up to this year’s Day of the Seafarer.

Yet despite calls by many organisations and industry bodies, seafarers are still not universally recognised as ‘key workers’.

At a Nautical Institute webinar this morning hosted by its President, Jillian Carson-Jackson, master mariners, the families of seafarers and India’s only female pilot were amongst the participants who outlined the many challenges faced by seafarers and their loved ones, both at home and at sea.

More needs to be done now and in the future for the welfare of seagoing personnel to ensure their fair future. Key worker status is essential, everyone agreed, but that is certainly not all.

The importance of maritime supply chains has been highlighted this year, with container equipment imbalances and the six-day blockage of the Suez Canal having an impact on high streets almost everywhere. Even so, few people yet recognise the unique and invaluable role filled by seafarers who keep supply chains running every day of the year.

Effective and safe crew changes, routine medical facilities, internet access – still unavailable or restricted on many ships – and fair treatment for all on board ship were some of the issues that came up during the webinar. But the challenges for seafarers’ families was also noted – a seafaring career is a career for the family, participants agreed.    

Although the restrictions relating to Covid 19 have caused extra untold hardship for many seagoing personnel and thrust at least some of their misfortunes into the public arena, the lives of seafarers even in normal times do not compare with any other form of employment.

No other employee is set to work seven days a week, night and day, for months on end, living and working in the same place. The old adage – “Go to sea and see the world!’ is increasingly irrelevant, even in normal times. Oil, gas and container terminals are often sited in locations where shore access is not possible.

And, in any case, many countries do not allow shore leave for seafarers, despite the often pressing requirement for just a short change of scene.