Seafarers rightly deserve long-overdue respect

Seafarers are a group of unsung heroes who keep the world’s trade moving, quickly and efficiently, in spite of the arduous nature of the journey and hazardous work environment.  Recently, seafarers also had to face the wrath of a global pandemic, where there were lockdowns and travel restrictions, and they were not allowed crew changes and shore leave, had to work beyond the duration of their contracts, and faced hardship and discrimination. Be that as it may, seafarers still maintained their professionalism and rose to the occasion.

Seafarers are the backbone of the global economy, working tirelessly to transport goods across oceans and seas.  Without their services, world trade will grind to a halt.  Despite the crucial role they play, seafarers often go unnoticed and underappreciated.  They are relatively hidden behind the scene and their jobs are considered as unglamorous, and seafaring may not be the first option of jobseekers or students choosing their academic specialization.  

But, as the Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated, the fact remains that seafarers are vital to global trade and they are professionals, just as lawyers and doctors are.  Therefore, seafarers deserve the same respect we give to lawyers and doctors and all maritime stakeholders should make it a priority to stop all unethical practices against seafarers, including not paying wages, exploitation and abandonment, among others.

Be that as it may, in this 21st century age of immense human advancement, there are still examples about the barbaric ways some stakeholders are treating seafarers.  For example, Boris Lunoff, representative from ship agent Lumar S.A., told me of the travesty of justice suffered by Ukrainian Captain Nevecheria and his crew, who were detained, locked up and charged with illegal arms trafficking by the Greece government.  

After being in detention for 3.5 years, on September 23, 2020, the Appellate Court of Dodecanese, Rhodes Island acquitted him and all crew members at the request of the prosecutor The court determined that there was no wrongdoing committed by any party and that the ship was in seaworthy condition while the cargo and its destination were fully legal and in good order.

On May 23, 2017, Nevecheria and his crew, working on the MV Mekong Spirit, were accosted by the Greek Coast Guard in international waters and escorted to a military base.  Initially, he was detained in the maximum-security prison of Korydallos awaiting trial, where he suffered in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.  After 192 days in jail, he was placed under house arrest. In 2018, the 15 crew members were repatriated pending trial, however Nevecheria was denied permission to leave.  

Finally, after 3.5 years, Nevecheria and his crew were acquitted, and he left for Odessa, Ukraine, but has since been unable to find employment to provide for himself and his family.  Due to his prolonged detention, he suffered irreparable physical and mental health damages and substantive financial loss. Currently, he is trying to bring the claim against the Greece government.

Highly trained experts with specialized skills

Approximately 80 percent of the world’s trade is transported by sea, as this mode of transport is relatively affordable and cost-effective, as compared to air and rail, thus making it heavily favored and advantageous for both businesses and consumers.  For example, an estimated US$3.37 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea annually, which accounts for a third of the global maritime trade.  And within these important global supply chains, literally affecting the survival of the world, seafarers play a vital role in global trade by transporting goods and commodities across the world’s oceans.  

Seafarers undergo rigorous training to obtain certifications and licenses required to perform their jobs professionally in operating and maintaining complex ships and vessels.  These specialized skills and expert knowledge of navigation, safety procedures, engineering and communication ensure the safety of the vessel, cargo and crew.

Seafaring is a 24/7 job and seafarers work long hours.  They are often away for many months at a stretch, onboard a vessel oftentimes in treacherous waters and adverse weather condition.  Beside adhering to strict safety standards and protocols to prevent accidents, they also have to be constantly vigilant for piracy and other emergencies.  They work in a highly regulated and safety-driven industry, and any misconduct or negligence could have serious consequences.  As such, seafarers must maintain a high level of professionalism and integrity at all times.  Therefore, they deserve to be respected and fairly compensated for their hard work, sacrifice and dedication.  

Self-worth is worth its weight in gold

Seafarers should be proud of the work they are doing and realize that they are a significant part of the global supply chains.  They must have a right understanding of the value they are adding as this will help them in having confidence in their ability and self-worth.  Having a high self-worth is an important aspect of mental and emotional well-being and seafarers will thus have a positive self-image and are more capable in handling life’s challenges and resilient to setbacks and criticism. 

Let me tell you a story.

Picasso was in a park when a woman approached him and asked him to draw a portrait of her. Picasso agreed and quickly sketched her.  After handing the sketch to her, she was pleased with the likeness and asked how much she owed him. Picasso replied US$12,000.

The woman screamed, “But it took you only five minutes!”

“No, madam, it took me all my life”, replied Picasso.

I always like to use this story to remind myself of my worth and the values that I am adding to my employer. 

As professionals, seafarers are experienced and well trained and they can manage and complete seemingly impossible missions with efficiency.  All stakeholders should recognize seafarers’ contribution to the global economy and treat them with the respect that they deserve.  They should be treated with the same respect and dignity as any other professionals like lawyers and doctors.  It is time to acknowledge their importance and protect their rights.  We cannot continue to take seafarers for granted.

Photo credit: iStock/ ultramansk

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