Seafarers: The invisible, underrated heroes of the modern times the world needs to know about Our lives are not a phenomena in ‘it-self’. There are factors, people, events within and without our control and knowledge which help us survive, make sense of the world around us and also make our lives easier. From our coffee to our curtains; from an earbud to earthmovers, the sea provides the easiest and most convenient route to deliver our goods right at our doorsteps (or any preferred destinations). But who tames the unpredictable seas, braving the elements, battling loneliness, hounding silences and piercing darkness, to bring the goods to us? They are the rare breed of people who brave the uncertainty aboard a vessel that floats upon the seas.
The seafarers chose a life in the unknown so that we could have the things we need and want without worrying too much about the complex system which works in the background. They are the only human cog in the wheel of an industry that is valued at USD 168.56 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow to USD 188.57 billion in 2028.
The History The history of seafaring is almost 7,000 years old. As the past is always manufactured to suit the present, countries now are at odds to claim which ancient culture was the pioneer to take on the open seas. Australia, China, Egypt, Lebanon all have thrown their hats in the ring to claim the coveted first position in the realm of seafaring. The Pesse canoe is claimed by experts to be the oldest boat. It is a simple hollowed-out wooden structure discovered in the Netherlands and archaeologists and experts are in unison in claiming it to be the world’s oldest equipment for floating on the seas. Phoenicians are believed to be the first ones to circumnavigate around Africa, and were also the first ones to create a powerful civilization in Carthage.
Carthage developed a powerful navy and spurred the Romans to develop their own naval force, which was ironical, because the influenced destroyed the influencer at sea. Ancient texts speak of many figures who braved the sea, refusing to conform to values on land and striving to discover what lay beyond. The legend of the merchant Pytheas is one such story. However, it was Homer’s Odyesseus who embodies the unbending resolve of man. Odysseus’ legend is of man who braved the sea, the weather, the supernatural to quench his thirst for discovery.
Moving ahead in the chronological path, in the 9th century a nomadic culture arose who took to the seas to raid, plunder, conquer and ravage towns and villages. The Vikings were primarily a seafaring people who sustained themselves on and by the sea. They were intune with the vastness of the ocean so much that they buried their dead in ships.
The Present To not mention the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on all would be a grave injustice to the present times. The pandemic raged and ravaged life and economy while the people were holed up helplessly in their homes trying to save themselves and watching people they knew die; losing on investments and eating into their savings. Life for seafarers wasn’t easy, and one might daresay, more unforgiving.
The ones on land were better disposed as they were with their loved ones, but the ones on seas faced a crisis that went under-reported. The pandemic led to the crew-change crisis which marooned the people onboard the vessel for months on end. Around 3,00,000 people were stuck aboard their vessel, while 1.4 million were stranded on land and found themselves unable to relieve their colleagues on the vessels, and without an income.
Some seafarers spent about 18 months on the sea and the taxation on their bodies and minds is unimaginable.
Sensing the deep crisis brewing on the sea, some 800 companies and organizations signed the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change which urged the stakeholders to recognize the seafarers as ‘key workers’ and implement gold standard
health protocols. Other than the pandemic, the elements and piracy are also grave concerns that threaten the wellbeing of the seafarers.
Piracy is not an issue fit only for Hollywood movies, it is a real and grave problem that exists in the modern, contemporary world. The Malacca Straits, the South China Sea and the Gulf of Aden are some of the world’s most affected areas in terms of piracy.
June 25th has been designated as the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ by the International Maritime Organization and it is the day reserved for celebrating seafarers, their contributions, struggles and their efforts to keep the world moving.
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