For maritime welfare charity Sailor’s Society, the theme of this year’s Day of the Seafarer couldn’t be more important.
Seafarers matter to all of us, because they are the lifeblood of the industry that brings 90 per cent of everything we use to our homes, our offices, our dinner tables. But, as transient visitors to our shores who often don’t even get past the port gates, they are so often overlooked – a giant, yet invisible workforce.
That’s why Sailors’ Society works tirelessly to raise public awareness of the importance of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers and the work that they do, through traditional and social media, advertising campaigns and by speaking to people in schools, communities, churches and businesses.
We’re doing this because we know that although seafaring is more often than not a rewarding and fulfilling career, it’s not without daily challenges: violent storms, extreme loneliness and isolation, the threat of piracy and even hijacking by terrorists.
With contracts lasting up to a year at a time, seafarers are far from loved ones and not able to access the everyday services that others take for granted. So we ask people to consider how much they rely on seafarers, and whether they can give back to them by supporting our chaplains, who offer welfare and practical help to seafarers and their families, of all faiths and none, in 91 ports and 27 countries around the world.
Seafarers matter to shipping companies, more and more of which are showing that they appreciate just how vital it is that the seafarers who work for them are well – not just physically, but mentally, relationally and spiritually.
Fatigue, poor mental health and stress can affect seafarers on a daily basis and be the difference between safe transit and a major incident. That’s why senior maritime executives joined us at our first Wellness at Sea conference this year, where we discussed how we can identify mental health issues early, before they impact seafarers’ lives, the safety of the ship and cargo and ultimately the bottom line.
And it’s why increasing numbers of shipping companies are signing their employees up to our Wellness at Sea training course and app. Wellness at Sea helps seafarers understand the impact that the pressures of life and sea – whether it’s loneliness, financial worries, fear of piracy or eating badly – can have on their well-being. It also gives them tools to stay well – like practical tips on how to respond positively to those pressures, develop healthy habits and maintain good relationships with colleagues and family back home.
Of course, seafarers matter immensely to the families and communities that they leave behind when they go to sea. Like Jakir in Bangladesh, who left elderly parents behind to follow a career at sea, only to be captured by Somali pirates, who held him for three years and seven months.
The pirates tortured him and his colleagues, shot one of them in the chest. The experience left Jakir with physical and emotional scars, and had a huge impact on his parents. They have struggled with illness and depression and Jakir was unable to pay for their treatment after his ordeal.
Sailors’ Society stepped in to fund Jakir’s family’s treatment. Jakir was also given psychological support by the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), and Sailors’ Society has since set up a Crisis Response Network to help victims of trauma and their families at home.
Seafaring is a primary source of income for whole communities in the Philippines. Sailors’ Society supports them in a variety of ways, from building homes and community centers for areas devastated to Typhoon Haiyan, to providing boats for children in very isolated communities who had been swimming to school.
And seafarers certainly matter to our chaplains, who visit them and their families at home and in port. They help them access Wi-Fi, they give them lifts into town, they care for them in a crisis. They remind them that they are not forgotten.
So we’re celebrating Day of the Seafarer in ports around the world. We hope that through these events, we are able to show just how much seafarers matter – not just on the one day of the year that we choose to globally celebrate, but each and every day.
Stuart Rivers is CEO of Sailors’ Society.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.