The IMO has declared June 25, as the Day of the Seafarer. Whoop-de-do! That has as much importance in the lives of the world’s seafarers as the fact that it is also Goats Cheese Day, National Catfish Day, Strawberry Parfait Day, Color TV Day, Global Beatles Day, Log Cabin Day, and Please Take My Children to Work Day.
I wonder just what, exactly, are we supposed to do with the Day of the Seafarer, other than to “appreciate” the worlds seafarers. To understand and appreciate that without those people spending most of their lives at sea, navigating the worlds oceans, facilitating 90 percent of the worlds trade, our lives would be vastly different.
The IMO promotes June 25 as the Day of the Seafarer so we can all take a moment or two today to appreciate what the seafarers of the world do for us. Today and every day. They spend half their lives (or more) to supply us with all the things we take for granted every other day of the year. Our food, clothes, cars, oil, coal, iron, cement, chemicals, etc. You name it, it probably came from somewhere else on a ship. Brought to you by seafarers.
Yet, with all the importance to the world (and to all our daily lives), there is just this one day of the year when we are asked specifically to “appreciate” the seafarer. What do we do the rest of the year?
At best, nothing. We ignore them. At least until they’re involved in some sort of disaster. Then we blame them. We criminalize them. We fine them and throw them in prison for doing the best they could do with the circumstances they were dealt. They not only have to deal with the vagaries of weather. Storms, hurricanes, ice, extremes of hot and cold weather along their routes. They also have to deal with man-made obstacles. Pirates, unscrupulous owners/operators who cheat them on wages, refuse to supply adequate food, water, stores and fuel.
Worse, we treat them like garbage. They’re kept out of sight and out of mind. Ships no longer dock in the middle of town where everybody sees them on a daily basis and the seafarers are free to mingle with the rest of the population. No. We put the docks out in the boonies now. Miles from town. It’s very expensive and time consuming to get to town now a days. That is, IF you’re allowed to go at all.
Worldwide there are still many agents who charge a fortune to find a sailor a job (which is illegal but nobody does anything to stop it). Ports and their governments around the world treat them like terrorists and criminals instead of the hard working assets to the world community that they are.
Governments and quasi-governmental agencies (like the IMO) come up with more and more time consuming and expensive hoops we’re forced to jump through in order to continue working in our profession. Supposedly, this is all for our own good. Of course.
Instead of promoting just one day of the year as the Day of the Seafarer, I would like to see the IMO actually DO something for the world's seafarers! They forced the STCW onto the world's seafarers, which has done nothing but cause thousands of us to lose our livelihoods and the rest of us countless days and millions of dollars.
If they can do that, they ought to be able to put a stop to the illegal pay for jobs scheme. They ought to be able to crack down on substandard living conditions and wages. They ought to be able to enforce the section of the ISPS that says that seafarers STILL have the right to shore leave and ports, docks, shipping companies, and agents are to facilitate that right instead of throwing barriers in the way. They ought to be able to do SOMETHING to actually HELP the world's seafarers!
Promoting the Day of the Seafarer is all well and good. It makes everyone feel better for a day or two. I’d like to see the IMO’s resources spent on something more useful.
Captain Jill P Friedman has been a seafarer for 40 years.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.