The holidays are a time when many of us must work to maintain essential services. But nothing can be more essential than the never ending transport of 90% of the world’s goods by sea. Without this unbroken service, the world as we know it would literally stop. Or, as the old maxim goes, “Half the world would starve and the other half would freeze”. Let us therefore think for a few minutes about the estimated 1.5 million men and women seafarers who work at sea and very the large number of them who will not be with their families this coming holiday season.
It has been a long time since SeaProf spent a holiday season at sea, having come ashore in the early 1980’s to study ship and port management and the law. However, he still remembers the good luck that went with a scheduled leave period which included a Christmas and New Year holiday. There was also the dismay when advised by head office that your Christmas relief had been regrettably delayed. Heavy hearted, you knew that you would have to do another voyage and miss the envisioned home coming and seasonal festivities. No point complaining. That’s the way it was in an era when seafarers were pretty much considered to be a commodity.
Some of the Christmases at sea were tough as your ship pounded and rolled its guts out crossing the North Atlantic or Pacific in mid-winter. The only upside was the camaraderie that existed between a crew subjected to mutual discomfort, fatigue and their determination to a least share a few drinks, with one hand for the glass and other for the ship. Swearing would often be heard from the galley. Would the cooks be able to get the Christmas dinner on to the table? Miraculously, while swaying to and fro on a wet and slippery deck, they usually accomplished it.
Christmas in port could be tougher because you could see people’s houses and often chimney smoke rising from them in the distance. You knew that people and families were inside them and making merry. So despite the traditional hoist of the ship’s Christmas tree to the top of the mast, you also knew your own family were very far away. It could be a lonely time and it was here that the Missions to Seafarers, and other charitable organisations like them, came into their own. They provided visits on board, the provision of small gifts and, best of all, access to telephones and family chats in a world where mobiles and the internet were still being invented.
Today, the Missions to Seafarers continues to carry on their good work with just over 20,000 small Christmas gifts being handed out last year to seafarer’s all around the world. On top of this, they still play a huge role in facilitating phone and internet communications between seafarers and their families during Christmas and at other times of the year as well. There are also Christmas dinners and caring people who will listen to, counsel and help seafarers in a world where the Maritime Labour Convention is not yet enforced by all IMO member flag states. And where ship owners still abandon their crews without food, back pay and the cost of flights home.
SeaProf suggests that wherever you may be this Christmas and holiday season, to think for a moment about the seafarers who helped bring you the food and drink on your table and the presents you may have received from loved ones. Those seafarers are ordinary people who do an extraordinary job in a working environment that becomes more and more regulated and more isolated from daily life ashore than ever before. They work long shifts often fighting off fatigue. They navigate waters frequently infested by pirates and terrorists. They undertake dangerous work in situations where there is no immediate emergency medical care. They can be subject to nefarious national laws that may result in their imprisonment at the whim of local authorities. So why do they do it? Sometimes because they savour the challenge. More often because there is no other work in their own country and no other way to feed their families.
So this holiday season please give a quiet cheer for seafarers the world over and your thanks for all that they bring to you and all the people of the world, 365 days of each and every year. Without them there would be no Christmas. In fact, there wouldn’t be much of anything.
Learn more about the Missions to Seafarers and their good work.
And be sure to check out this really great video on the Mission RASI (Row Around Singapore) race in support of the Missions to Seafarers.
Two of our Key Elements of Shipping course 13-15 March 2018 speakers, Dave Wisse of SMIT Salvage and Lewis Hart of Willis Towers Watson insurance brokers, participated in Mission RASI. SeaProf (now being a bit arthritic) supported the race by way of a Missions to Seafarers donation. We will all be very pleased to talk to you about the good work of the Missions to Seafarers in Singapore, all around Asia and the entire world.
We hope to see you at Key Elements of Shipping. Full details are available at the link buttons below. If you have any questions, please send a mail to Ashley our Course Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org