25th June marks the annual Day of the Seafarer, a celebration designated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to recognise the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society.
This year the theme is ‘Seafarers Matter’, and we thought it was a good time to explore some of the issues which matter to seafarers. At the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), especially through SeafarerHelp and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), we hear firsthand the tales from seafarers.
Working with our members and welfare partners, we know what moves seafarers, what impacts them and the extent to which they have to deal with so many challenges.
So, on this Day of the Seafarer, we wanted to delve a bit further into why seafarers matter. Each year we work to promote this important day in order to appreciate all that seafarers do and so that we can raise the profile of their vital welfare needs and rights. In 2016, we held an event for 2,500 seafarers and their families in Manila, the Philippines, with IMO Secretary-General Mr Kitack Lim as Guest of Honour. This year our London team came together to celebrate with different cultural food, music and decorations in recognition of the diverse nationalities of seafarers working in this global industry. ISWAN’s regional representatives are also involved in local celebrations in Nigeria, India and the Philippines, home to large numbers of the world’s seafarers.
MISSING PIECE OF THE JIGSAW
It’s true that seafarers matter not only on 25th June but every single day of the year, and this theme underpins our work all year round. It is vital that the real lives and experiences of seafarers shape the way we deal with issues at sea. Seafarers are the lifeblood of the industry, so while it is wholly positive to celebrate and recognise the contribution they make, there should be no glossing over the need to ensure their experiences of seafarers are as positive as possible.
Welfare at sea matters, but there are challenges to deliver it. As so many surveys and studies testify, seafarers want to feel positive about their lives, hopes, options and careers.
They want to feel connected, supported, listened to and respected. They want the trappings of modern life, such as connectivity and the internet. They want their time at sea to be as enjoyable as it can be. It is work, yes, but the experience needs to be a positive one.
When things go wrong seafarers want and need somewhere to turn to. When they contact us through SeafarerHelp, they want reassurance and advice. They want to know that someone cares, that someone is listening and that someone can help.
It is not just seafarers, the families and loved ones need support too. A matter which is often overlooked, but is hugely significant. Having happy family at home eases the burden on those at sea. It can be a fraught, frantic time if seafarers are unable to contact, support and help the people left behind at home. So, we need to remember both sides of the seafaring equation – those at home as well as away.
SeafarerHelp is often the first port of call for seafarers and their families when they need help. This day to day contact with seafarers means that our dialogue is about the things which matter, and which affect them. Nothing in a seafarer’s life happens in a vacuum, so every change can have implications to the most fundamental aspects of life at sea.
CARING FOR CREWS
We believe it is vital to maintain an ongoing and positive dialogue with seafarers. Our multilingual team has its finger on the pulse of seafaring, and in talking to crews we understand the range of key issues affecting them.
In recent years we have highlighted the shift of internet usage, and the fact that young seafarers are increasingly led by connectivity. We have helped lead the way in disseminating seafarer views on health, security and wellbeing, as well as fitness and tackling obesity.
From safety to fatigue, career development to abandonments, we hear the problems first hand. The list of challenges goes on, and by providing seafarers with an outlet and a means to talk, then we are giving them relief from the pressures which can build. It is incumbent on us to not fix merely the ills of individuals, we must ensure needs of seafarers are understood and used to find answers within the shipping industry.
We encourage all across shipping to work together, to talk about the things seafarers tell us, and to develop solutions to make life at sea better. While also improving the lives of those who are left behind when seafarers depart for work.
On this day of celebration, let us all think of those on ships. Let’s also commit to continuing to connect seafarers with their ambitions, hopes and dreams. We at ISWAN are proud to be a part of this, and in recognising the unique contribution of seafarers, we salute all who work at sea and thank each and every one of you. To find out more about our work, see seafarerswelfare.org/our-work.