So far, several countries have acknowledged seafarers as key workers; nonetheless, still thousands cannot be repatriated and go back to their families. The Day of Seafarer on June 25th gave credits to the unsung heroes of our industry who currently face unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic and last developments and initiatives show great effort to resolve the crew change crisis soonest possible.
This time in our special column Sea Sense, in cooperation with the North of England P&I Club, we ask from industry experts to make their assessment on our perception of seafarers valuable work.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic led to a greater recognition by the general public of the work and value of the seafarer?
Secretary General, ICS
SOMEWHAT. Awareness among the general public has improved for seafarers, but they have yet to receive the same recognition as more ‘customer facing’ members of the supply chain. Government recognition has been hard-won by industry through our effort to attain keyworker status for seafarers. Echoing Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), in some respects shipping has been the best industry to represent itself. It is good to see the latest news from the WHO that seafarers should be prioritised for vaccination. Seafarers, air crew, port workers, and truck drivers have kept us all supplied with food, fuel, and PPE in the most challenging times. Now, ICS is leading a cross-industry effort to ensure governments deliver on their promises by exempting all transport workers from travel bans and prioritising them for vaccination. Governments must act now to protect this essential workforce and global trade.
Secretary General, Nautilus International
YES. Through a combination of the pandemic and the Suez Canal blockage, the profile of seafarers and the maritime industry has been significantly increased. There has also been a welcome focus on seafarer wellbeing and mental health, issues which have been hugely impacted by the crew change crisis. Long overdue conversations have been taking place across the sector and we have already seen significant investment into mental health provision. We need to ensure that this continues as we begin the long road to recovery from Covid-19, and we also need to keep as much focus as possible on the vital work that seafarers do.
Loss Prevention Executive, The North of England P&I Club
NO. And a resounding one at that. The role of the seafarer may have become more visible during the pandemic, but to the general public and seemingly some authorities, their perceived value has not increased. While seafarers continued working through difficult conditions and extended periods on board to deliver or facilitate the delivery of the goods that the public desire (and the equally important raw materials), their efforts and sacrifice largely went unrecognised or with little gratitude. Add this to the restrictions on seafarer travel and shore leave imposed by many countries, this will do little to entice the next generation to come to sea. This is a widespread issue where solutions are thin on the ground.
Capt. John Lloyd
RD MBA FNI, Chief Executive Officer, The Nautical Institute
NO. As a maritime professional who has committed a working lifetime to the sector, I understand the essential contribution that seafarers and shipping make to our global community. It is priceless and indispensable. The mantra of ‘no shipping – no shopping’ is fully understood by those of us in the industry. To the general public we have been, and remain, invisible. People take for granted the supply of their food, medicines, fuel and ‘essential’ technology products. They care little about where they come from and even less about how they get to the shops. Service is our reward, not recognition! Those who know appreciate our work. That is the most important recognition of all.
Director, Worldwide Business Operations / Managing Director – Piraeus, Greece, IRI/The Marshall Islands Registry
YES. I think the crewing crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the intense media attention around the recent incident of the EVER GIVEN, have educated the public about the work and value of seafarers. However, I think there is much more to be done to protect seafarers as keyworkers and raise the profile of the profession. Media attention and public recognition are not enough – we need to see action from our global governing bodies to treat seafarers as essential workers, protecting their rights to safety, health and security, including their ability to transit on/off vessels smoothly. I am glad to see seafarers being recognized outside of the industry, but I think there is far more that needs to be done.
Director Maritime, CHIRP
The answer is MAYBE or perhaps more accurately “Yes, but…”. At the outset of the pandemic, seafarers enjoyed public prominence because of their importance in keeping supply networks functioning, particularly those concerned with the delivery of medicines, PPE and other health supplies. Several months later, media reports of up to 200,000 being stranded at sea (because many governments banned crews from coming ashore) again raised their public profile and attracted considerable public sympathy. However such recognition was short-lived, perhaps because the plight of seafarers was perceived as only one of many competing stories of misfortune. Their categorisation as “key workers” by some governments has offered little succour to the seafarers who continue to face extreme risk to their physical and mental safety, financial security, and their wellbeing: many are unable to access vaccines even in those countries where they are available. CHIRP will continue to investigate reports of such hazards by seafarers into the future.
Kostas G. Gkonis
PhD, Director / Secretary General, INTERCARGO
MAYBE. This has been the case for a rather not insignificant part of the general public. Across the industry, concerted actions have sent out a distress message, as seafarers and their families have faced an unending series of challenges since the COVID pandemic first struck. These actions have raised to some extent the, otherwise low, profile of shipping. However, the shipping industry’s urgent message has been very slow to reach the ears of key decision-makers outside the maritime sphere who could ease this ongoing humanitarian crisis: despite a growing number of positive exceptions, ALL governments need to act NOW. Universal mobilisation, collective action, and coordination in implementing practical measures and solutions for seafarers as essential key workers are imperative.
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