The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has brought acute focus to the maritime industry, and the individuals and entities that operate within it. It is a shame that it took a global health crisis to begin global discussions about the vital importance of our seafarers.
Over the past 18 months, we have had to contend with issues in the supply chain that have, at times, put the health and safety of seafarers secondary to the urgent needs of those they diligently serve, even to the detriment to their own person.
However, the time has come for regional and international bodies to reconsider the roles of seafarers who remain dutybound to an industry that has been challenged on all fronts by the pandemic and to offer unwavering support despite travel restrictions, access limitations and other challenges which followed virus containment measures.
In addition to the actual potential for infection by COVID-19, our seafarers have had to cope with other fallout from the pandemic including difficulties in safe transfers, repatriation and crew changeovers that effectively left many stranded at sea and away from their families for months at a time. On the other hand, many have been unable to gain work due to the very issues keeping their compatriots aboard vessels long after their formal agreements are concluded.
Further, the lack of vaccine prioritisation for them by many states and global organisations, continues to put them at great risk due to the nature of their work which requires travel across international borders.
Despite the paramount nature of this undeniably essential service, seafarers have not received the recognition, legislative or otherwise, and attention that would see them receive treatment that is equitable and humane.
It is against that setting that the International Maritime Organization’s call for a “Fair Future for Seafarers” earns even greater credence and support as we commemorate their unrelenting sacrifices and dedication, particularly as part of the world’s frontline response to the virus crisis.
Today, which is observed as the Day of the Seafarer, is symbolic of our celebration of these brave men and women who continue to fight the arduous fight. However, our own efforts will extend well beyond as we continue to lobby for just wages, treatment, working conditions, training, and safety for our seafarers whose work impacts the lives of us all. The work has just begun.