By Kenneth Jukpor
In a bid to commemorate the 2020 International Seafarer’s Day, Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria has commended the services of seafarers around the globe.
The Association said it is excited to join other organisations in celebrating seafarers, describing them as key workers responsible for sustainable global trade with ships accounting for over 90 percent.
WISTA Nigeria made this commendation in a press release signed by its President, Mrs. Eunice Ezeoke to mark the annual Seafarers Day celebrated on June 25th.
“Paying more attention to the humans who work on board the vessels is a key success factor to the global shipping industry. The world at large may know but should be reminded that the sea is not as friendly as it seems when seen from the shore and despite technological advancement and innovations in ships, seafarers at sea are at the mercy of nature and shipping poicies,” she said.
Ezeoke commended the workers for their braveity to stay at the frontline in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, to play an essential role in maintaining the global flow of vital goods, such as food, medicines and medical supplies.
Highlighting some of the challenges confronting seafarers, she said, “Chukwu, a crew on board a liner vessel, left home early March 2020, for a voyage that was originally scheduled to last for 35 days. Based on the initial plan in the contract he signed with the shipping company, he was supposed to return to his pregnant wife who was due to bring to bed by mid-April, sadly, he was still at sea when his first child came into this world. No thanks to the restriction of movement occasioned by the breakout of the COVID – 19 pandemic the world over, he is still unsure of when he will be able to see his son born almost 2 months ago.”
“Chukwu, and many other seafarers like him, have been caught in the gale of the decisions made about the pandemic, without any much thoughts about their welfare, or the roles they play in situations like this. While the world is on lockdown, they are away from their loved ones carrying out their duties at sea, ensuring that cargo is delivered on time.”
Noting that there are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally with over 1.6 million seafarers worldwide, Ezeoke stressed that greater support and improved welfare should be accorded seafarers to attract millennials to the profession.
“The vast majority of international trade is done by sea, due to relatively low costs and greater economy of space. If trade by sea were limited in some way, or stopped altogether, there is no way that the global economy would be able to function. In other words, we owe our current ways of life to those who travel the seas who have to fight the toughest seas and roughest weather including piracy, yet they are resilient enough to accept this reality of their profession. Can you imagine what will happen to the worlds economy if seafarers refuse to work especially on piracy-prone routes?” She said.
In his Day of the Seafarer message, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim stressed the importance of the work seafarers do.
“Just like other key workers, seafarers are on the front line in this global fight. They deserve our thanks. But they also need and deserve quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere, not just during the pandemic, but at all times”, Mr. Lim said.
However, the crisis has led to difficult working conditions for seafarers, including uncertainties and difficulties about port access, re-supply, crew changeovers and repatriation.
This year, the theme of the campaign is Seafarers Are Keyworkers. The campaign this year calls on Member States to recognize seafarers as key workers and to provide them with the support, assistance and travel options open to all key workers during the pandemic.
In Nigeria, the federal government made a policy that ensured that the seaports remained open for businesses and goods needed to fight the pandemic head-on, but seafarers made this a reality.
“A big thank you given in the direction of the seafarers is very important, as a recognition of their immense contributions to curb the COVID 19 pandemic the world over. Everyone should treat seafarers with the respect and dignity they deserve so that they can continue to provide their vital services to keep world trade moving. Just like the frontline healthcare workers that are presently in hospitals across the globe fighting the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic head-on to save lives, there are also seamen are responsible to deliver essentials to where they are needed, and ensure world trade remains uninterrupted despite the lockdown in most nations,” Ezeoke added.