10 REASONS WE MUST THANK SEAFARERS
By Capt. Do Ngoc Hoai
For the past thousands of years people from around the world have been sending goods through sea ways. From the clothes people wear to the food they eat, almost everything today is brought to them through ships.
The shipping industry, also termed as the invisible industry by many, is crucial to the existence of the global economy, yet very few people have any idea what happens at the high seas. It is an industry which is secretive and fascinating at the same time.
But as vital as the industry is to the world and its people, equally important is the work of the brave seafarers who perform one of the toughest jobs in the world by running those massive ships through the roughest seas and riskiest areas. If it hadn’t been for them, the global trade would come to a standstill, people would be devoid of their basic necessities and some nations would find it extremely difficult to even survive.
Seafarers are one of those neglected professionals, who have often been overlooked not only by international organizations but also by their own countries. If you make an effort to go beyond their smart uniforms and fancy travel schedules, you will be able to see the tough lifestyle they live and the hardships they endure at sea to make sure the world and its people continue to enjoy their life on shore.
Mentioned below are some of the most important reasons (among many others), for which, each and every seafarer needs to be thanked from the greatest depth our hearts.
1. Seafarers Run the Global Economy
90% of the world’s food, fuel, raw material and manufactured goods are delivered by sea. Nearly all things sold worldwide are transported through ships, which need skilled seafarers to operate, maintain and repair. Needless to say, the word would come to a halt and the people would be devoid of their basic necessities. It is because of these skilled and brave people called seafarers that businesses around the world continue to thrive and people are able to buy the things they desire from their favorite stores.
2. Seafarers Sacrifice Their Social Life
The biggest difficulty seafarers face in their life (not out of choice) is staying away from their loved ones while they carry out their duties at sea. Missing birthdays, family events or brother’s wedding is the price they pay to ensure that the cargo reaches people on time. There are many seafarers who have missed every single birthday celebration of their kids. Some haven’t been able to attend funerals of their loved ones. It is a tough choice they make to earn a livelihood for their families, but the pain of going away from the family doesn’t deter them from performing their duties. Someone has to do the job and seafarers are tough enough to accept this bitter fact. While people on land celebrate and socialize at every possible opportunity, seafarers continue to toil away at sea to ensure that those celebrations do not stop, even at the cost of their own happiness.
3. Seafarers Fight the Toughest Seas and Roughest Weather
Taking cargo from one port to other often involves facing ugly storms and monstrous waves. A sea isn’t as friendly as it seems when watched from shore. In spite of all the latest technological advancement, a seafarer at sea is at the mercy of nature. But what may come, the cargo has to be shipped to the scheduled location and that too on the right time. Several ships sink each year because of storms and rough weather, but that doesn’t scare a seafarer – They are born for such conditions. He is built tough and has the heart to carry on with this work as the ship rolls and pitches over huge waves.
If you think working in such conditions is easy or fun, then you are highly mistaken. Not everyone can do it, and those working on land can never fathom the hardships one has to face in such environment. So, while people on land work in their extremely cozy offices with ultra-luxurious amenities, people at sea work through sickest and unfriendliest conditions to ensure that businesses around the world do not stop and those on land continue to enjoy their comforts.
4. Seafarers Risk Their Lives Through Piracy and War Zones
According to a report, more than 100,000 seafarers at any one time either travel or are planning to go through the dangerous piracy affected areas. Until now, several ships have been highjacked and many seafarers have been taken as hostages by pirates. They are tortured, abused, and kept in miserable conditions as prisoners. Even today, events of piracy have not stopped. Ships continue to get highjacked and seafarers are still being taken as hostages. But in spite of all the risks and fear, seafarers continue to do their duties through these dangerous areas. The “Piracy Zones” covers one of the most important sea trading routes for food, raw materials, and manufactured good. Nearly half of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes through these pirate-infested areas. Just imagine what would happen to the world economy if seafarers refuse to work in these areas? You already know the answer.
Moreover, if need be, seafarers even sail through war zones and assist navies to deliver cargo and supplies where they are required the most. Can they say no? Yes! But they never say so, they never will.
5. Seafarers Face Extreme Health Hazards
Working on ships is not easy. Visit a ship and you will know. Seafarers are prone to several specific diseases and illnesses because of the nature of the work and continuous travel to new places. Apart from physical hazards such as diseases and injuries caused due to accidents, seafarers also fall prey to psychological problems such as homesickness, loneliness and fatigue, a part and parcel of their life at sea. Moreover, if something happens onboard there are in most cases no possibilities to turn to an expert and get extra medical help. Seafarers have to manage everything themselves when at sea. But no matter how many risks they have to face working on board ships, they continue with their jobs and face the health hazards quite bravely by acquiring knowledge and training themselves for the worst medical emergencies. What would you do if you break your bones while working and do not have to a doctor or hospital to attend you immediately? Well, seafarers perform some of the most dangerous jobs without a doctor around. Do they need any greater reason to be thanked?
6. Seafarers Follow Toughest Regulations and Laws
With the increasing number of stringent regulations related to ships around the world, seafarers are facing grave difficulties not only to ensure their own safety but also to abide by the rules and regulations of environmental and ship protection. Moreover, each country the ship visits has its own law and regulations which they can freely use to criminalize a seafarer. Most of the times this is done with the intention to raise revenue or settle political issues. In the past years, several seafarers have been made scapegoats by countries desperately wanting to prove a point to other nations. Under such acts, seafarers have been prisoned for years, tortured and treated in the most deplorable manner. Can you consider living each day of your life dealing with different (and sometimes insane) laws without any kind of substantial reassurance to help you out incase things go wrong? If you are on land, you can immediately call your lawyer or at least know the right person to talk to, but seafarers don’t have that luxury. They work through toughest legal obligations at their own risk while delivering the world cargo.
7. Seafarers Work Round the Clock with Monotonous Routines
Sailing the high seas with all those exotic locations and glamorous uniforms sounds romantic to many people. But most do not know about the hard work seafarers put every day and night to run those ships and their machinery. Ships of every seafarer, who has been sailing for a few years must have reached the best places in the world such as New york, Hong Kong, Tokyo etc., but for majority of seafarers, all these beautiful places either look like the ship’s engine room or upper deck. Gone are the days when seafarers had the luxury of prolonged stays at ports. Today a ship is loaded and unloaded in max 24 hours leaving no time for shore leaves. Moreover, port means additional work, which sometimes involve continuously working for 18 hours at a stretch. With increasing threats from terrorists, most countries now do not even allow shore leave to seafarers, leaving them with no option but to stay on board. Would you like if someone made you work for several days and then restricted you from stepping out of the office premises? Of course not. But seafarers work happily under such circumstances and deadlines, not because there is no other option, but because they know the importance of their work and delivering of the cargo on time.
8. Seafarers Work the Most Without the Basic Rights
A majority of seafarers sail without proper insurance or pension policies – few of the basics rights every working professional on this earth must get. Many shipping companies do not have a proper pension scheme in their contract, even if seafarers want to contribute. Moreover, seafarers from several countries (especially Asian) do not even have the provision of decent medical care or insurance system either at sea or on leave. Considering the fact that a person working on land at any level has all such basic rights, it is surprising to see how seafarers continue to work in such adverse situations even without the basic rights that they deserve. There have been cases in the past wherein seafarers had to literally beg in order to receive compensation for expenses and medical treatment for injuries they endured on board. Though the seafarers know they deserve all these rights and a lot more, but are still devoid of them, the work on board ship do not stop. They continue to carry out their duties with the same intensity as ever.
9. Seafarers Are At High Risk Of Criminalization and Abandonment While Performing Their Duties
According to ITF, seafarers are among the most exploited and abused group of workers in the world. They face exploitation, abuse and corruption on a large scale. Many seafarers have been criminalized, abandoned and not paid by their shipping companies, especially in tough financial times. Several of them find themselves abandoned in a port with no money, no supplies and no way to get home. In certain types of maritime accidents, especially those involving pollution, seafarers are highly vulnerable because of unfair trails and weight of expectations from local people and government. In the past, seafarers have been wrongly accused and sentenced punishments without a proper trial or help from their own government or shipping company. The number of such incidents are on the rise because of the increase in stringent laws around the world. In spite of such grave injustice and ill-treatment, seafarers perform their duties on ships plying in countries with some of the most inhumane laws. Isn’t it unfair to watch them go through such situations while all they were doing was carrying out their duties? No matter how small a mistake, seafarers always have to pay a heavy price.
10. Seafarers Live with Least Accommodation and Communication Facilities
While people on land have the luxury to call their loved ones as and when they want, seafarers often have to wait until they reach land to find a decent communication facility (Also, there is no guarantee that every port will have such facilities). Even today most of the seafarers are devoid of a decent mode of communication. That’s not all, there are many who lives in poor quality cabins with filthy couch and mound. Moreover, many complain of bad quality and insufficient quantity of food. For those on long voyages, rotting fruits and stale meats is a common sight. Though the regulations to monitor the quality of food and living conditions have improved, there are often times when seafarers do not even have a decent meal. As harsh as it may sound, seafarers not only have to deal with such conditions but also continue to carry out their duties onboard ships. Of all the things, at least decent accommodation and food is most deserved by all seafarers, considering the life of loneliness and hardships they live on ships.
Seafarers are often seen as happy-go-lucky people, who are always flashing a broad smile both on and off board ship. But there is a lot more to them. They are probably, one of the very few people in the world, who understand the true value of family and work. With the types of difficulties they face at sea, seafarers know very well how to make the most of the free time and enjoy to the fullest. Even though they are aware of the importance of their work, they do not allow it to go to their head. They continue with their duties even if the world, governments and companies continue to ignore them; for they know their time, both on ship and on land, is limited and making the most of that is the only option them have.
We as people of the world to give a special “THANK YOU” to all the seafarers for the tremendous work they do.