Make seafaring great again

An overwhelming 80 percent of global goods are transported by ships and this fact places the maritime industry at the center of global trade, connecting nations and driving economic prosperity. At the heart of maritime transport are the seafarers, who play an essential role in the conduct of global trade and commerce, ensuring the smooth transportation of goods across the seas. 

Seafaring has played a pivotal role throughout human history, shaping civilizations, facilitating trade, and fostering cultural exchange. From facilitating international commerce to enabling access to vital commodities and resources, seafaring is of paramount importance for global prosperity. 

A seafarer at the ship’s bridge. Photo credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

Seafaring: A cornerstone of global prosperity

Seafaring has been and continues to be the backbone of international trade. Approximately 80 percent of global trade by volume and 70 percent by value is transported by sea, making maritime trade an indispensable aspect of the global economy. 

Container ships, tankers, and bulk carriers transport goods such as raw materials, manufactured products, and energy resources across continents and oceans. Seafaring connects different nations and regions, enabling them to access markets and benefit from comparative advantages, fostering economic growth and development. Without it, globalization as we know it would not flourish.

Seafaring is crucial in ensuring the availability of natural resources. Many land-based resources are scarce or unevenly distributed globally. Through seafaring, nations can access valuable resources that they lack domestically, fostering a more equitable distribution of essential goods. 

Oil and gas exploration, fishing, and deep-sea mining are all made possible by seafaring, providing societies with the necessary resources for energy, nourishment, and raw materials. This not only promotes self-sufficiency but also stimulates economic equilibrium and harmonious interdependence between nations.

Seafaring remains an essential component of global prosperity and the backbone of international trade. Be that as it may, the seafarer profession is currently facing challenges in attracting and retaining talent. 

A container ship. Photo credit: iStock/ Suphanat Khumsap

Harsh and unforgiving reality at sea

Seafaring has long been romanticized as a daring and adventurous profession, conjuring up images of brave individuals traversing the open seas on epic voyages. However, behind the allure and aura lies a harsh and unforgiving reality. 

One of the most significant drawbacks is the intense isolation and loneliness that comes with it. Spending long stretches at sea, away from family and loved ones, can lead to a profound sense of disconnection and homesickness. Lack of social interaction and the absence of a stable support system can negatively impact mental health, leading to issues like depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse.

Seafaring also entails challenging and often dangerous working conditions. Seafarers often face rough weather, extreme temperatures, and hazardous environments. The long hours required to navigate the ship, maintain equipment, and keep watch can lead to physical and mental fatigue, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.

Additionally, the living quarters on board are often cramped and uncomfortable, further contributing to the overall discomfort. The constant exposure to noise and vibrations can cause a wide range of health problems, including hearing loss and musculoskeletal disorders. The lack of medical facilities and the limited access to proper healthcare while at sea further jeopardize their well-being.

Moreover, the demanding nature of the job often results in an unhealthy or irregular lifestyle, leading to issues like sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and limited exercise opportunities. These factors contribute to a higher prevalence of health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and mental health issues, among seafarers compared to the general population.

Contrary to popular belief, seafaring jobs do not guarantee long-term stability and job security. The nature of the industry is such that job availability fluctuates depending on economic factors, global trade patterns, and even political circumstances. Seafarers may find themselves facing extended periods of unemployment, which can lead to financial stress and uncertainty.

Seafaring is an industry that has long been plagued by numerous legal and ethical concerns. Many seafarers face exploitation, with unscrupulous ship owners and companies paying meager wages and disregarding basic labor rights. The lack of job security and the absence of adequate legal protection exacerbate this exploitation, putting seafarers at a greater disadvantage.

Furthermore, incidents of maritime piracy, human trafficking, and unsafe working conditions are a grim reality for many seafarers, further compromising their safety and security. 

A container ship at port. Photo credit: iStock/ AvigatorPhotographer
A seafarer using walkie-talkie. Photo credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

More equitable and sustainable seafaring

The seafaring profession is at a critical juncture, with a pressing need to attract and retain skilled individuals in the industry. Therefore, it is essential that stakeholders advocate for better conditions and improved protections for seafarers, working towards a more equitable and sustainable industry.

One of the primary barriers to attracting talent to the seafaring industry is the prevalence of misconceptions regarding the nature of the profession. Many potential candidates believe that seafaring is a monotonous and isolating profession, involving long periods away from loved ones. 

To counter these misperceptions, it is essential to showcase the diverse and dynamic nature of seafaring careers. Industry stakeholders must actively engage with educational institutions, the media, and career counselors to convey the excitement and opportunities available at sea. Sharing stories of successful seafarers who have flourished in their careers can inspire a new generation and change outdated perceptions.

The seafaring industry has historically been male-dominated, but it is essential to promote diversity and inclusivity in order to attract a wider pool of talent. Companies should actively encourage and support more women to pursue seafaring careers, breaking down the barriers that exist in terms of equal pay, access to promotions, and availability of suitable facilities and resources. 

Additionally, fostering an inclusive work environment that embraces different cultures, nationalities, and backgrounds can enhance teamwork, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

Navigation officer. Photo credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

One of the crucial factors that can make seafarer jobs more enticing is offering competitive wages and benefits. Many prospective seafarers are deterred by the perception of low salaries and long working hours. By reassessing industry standards and providing fair remuneration, along with a comprehensive benefits package that includes healthcare, retirement plans, and opportunities for career advancement, companies can attract and retain top talent from around the world.

Another critical aspect that needs attention is to improve quality of living and working conditions onboard vessels. Seafarers often spend months at sea, away from their families and loved ones. Companies should strive to create better on-board amenities, such as comfortable living quarters, recreational facilities, and internet connectivity, to ensure seafarers can maintain a healthy work-life balance, fostering psychological well-being.

Safety at sea is a paramount concern for seafarers and their families. Implementing stringent safety protocols, access to professional medical care, and continuous training programs can help alleviate concerns related to the hazardous nature of sea voyages. Companies should invest in state-of-the-art safety equipment and provide regular safety drills to minimize risks and enhance the confidence of potential seafarers.

A seafarer on the deck. Photo credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

Extended periods of isolation, high-stress environments, and the lack of emotional support can take a toll on the mental health of seafarers. It is crucial for shipping companies to promote awareness about mental health issues and provide access to professional counseling services both during and after employment. The inclusion of mental health support programs can create a healthier and more supportive work environment for seafarers, making the profession more attractive for prospective candidates.

The maritime industry is experiencing rapid technological advancements, including the use of automation, digitalization, and artificial intelligence. Seafarers should be trained to leverage these technologies to optimize operations and increase efficiency while reducing their workload. By embracing technology, seafarers can acquire modern skills, making their job more appealing, and fostering career growth potential.

Governments have a vital role to play in encouraging more people to join the seafaring industry. Through policies, incentives, and financial support, governments can help reduce the financial burden associated with training, licensing, and certification. They should collaborate with industry stakeholders to develop comprehensive strategies for promoting seafaring careers, including public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives. By creating a supportive environment, governments can contribute to the growth and vibrancy of the maritime industry.

Lastly, it is crucial to recognize and appreciate the contribution of seafarers to the global economy. Governments, industry bodies, and society as a whole should acknowledge the sacrifices made by seafarers and the vital role they play in global trade. Celebrating seafarer achievements through awards, festivals, and public acknowledgments will not only raise awareness but also increase the pride associated with being a seafarer.

It is the collective responsibility of maritime stakeholders, including governments, shipowners, and educational institutions, to undertake collaborative efforts and implement these proposals to ensure the viability and attractiveness of the seafaring profession in the long run.

Top photo credit: iStock/ Igor-Kardasov

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