You are here

So much owed by so many to all seafarers

So much owed by so many to all seafarers
June 25, 2024

Writing for Splash on the Day of the Seafarer, Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, has some advice for a decent theme for the IMO to rally behind for next year’s crew celebration day – communicating value to the world.

Happy Day of the Seafarer to you! Since its inception in 2011, this annual commemoration has served as a reminder of the invaluable contributions of seafarers and a chance to explore the issues impacting them.

As a yearly reminder of the role of seafarers, there can be no question of the significance. It is important though to question whether it is punching through and driving change in the industry and more importantly society.

Is this celebration getting the public fired up about how vital shipping is, and how pivotal the people onboard are? Sadly, a quick Google news search shows not. The message is seemingly struggling to escape our own maritime orbit. Alas, it is forever us talking about us to us.

That is not to say it is not a good idea, it is. We should rightly celebrate and rally to the cause. As our United Nations body then who else but the IMO to wave the flag? So, we should indeed applaud the sentiments but not shy from the call to deliver more.

Over recent years the campaign focus has covered vitally important issues like seafarer welfare, gender parity, key worker status, fair treatment, environmental stewardship, and safety – all vital aspects of supporting and valuing the maritime workforce.

Now of course, not wanting to be overly negative, but the sad fact remains that such special Days do not lead to Knights in shining armour. Despite the well-intentioned themes, words are not seemingly translating into action.

Alas, there still leaves so much to be desired at sea. Welfare concerns linger, with poor living and working conditions, mental health struggles, and a lack of shore leave, being the miserable norm. The industry remains overwhelmingly male-dominated, so gender issues are still a painful touchpoint, let alone anywhere near parity.

Seafarers continue to feel their rights and fair treatment are compromised, enduring long contract periods away from home and facing issues like maritime criminalisation and rip-off recruiters. While the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune can hit many a seafarer if woe betide things go wrong. From Houthis rebels to the US legal system, the blows keep coming.

While as to being genuine partners in environmental policymaking and sustainability, alas again seafarers feel excluded from crucial discussions and developments. The “Just Transition” feeling more just a transition. Compounding these issues, low pay, difficult working environments, and a lack of societal recognition contribute to a sense that seafarers are invisible and undervalued.

One of the real problems is perhaps a failure in communicating. We are not telling the wider world of the value of seafarers. We are shying from the debate on how crews drive trade, economic growth and development. We have to learn to talk of how ships and seafarers are lifting global communities into more prosperous lives. About how seafarers connect all people and nations. They finance, fuel and feed us all, and we need to shout out this powerful message.

So, what of that issue of seafarer value? Just how much worth in cold hard monetary terms do crews deliver to the world? To get all Churchillian for a moment, can we calculate how much is owed by so many to so few?

Let’s try and crunch some numbers. According to UNCTAD, global trade in 2023 was around $31trn, and 50% of that trade by value is carried by ships. We also know that there are around 1.9m seafarers. You can maybe see where this is going.

Assuming those figures, we have $15.5trn divided by our seafarers, making the dollar value of global trade carried by each seafarer approximately $8.158m. Impressive stuff, I am sure you will agree.

Now, let’s consider the actual value added per seafarer. Being rather more circumspect, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) estimates that the maritime industry contributes around $1.4trn in value added to the global economy annually. Dividing even this lesser figure by the 1.9m seafarers still translates into $736,842.11 of value added to the global economy per seafarer.

Of course, the real-world sums are not so simplistic and may well be a moot point, but somewhere the theoretical arguments do stack up even if the dollar signs don’t. What we know is that seafarers make the world work, and there is an inherent vitality and value to that.

This is what we need to spread. We need to be willing to put numbers on things to make our argument more potent. We need to look beyond our bubble, past our own queries and concerns, to the real world outside. Until every person knows and understands what seafarers do, what it means to them and of the value inherent within that, then all our arguments, impassioned pleas and posturing are for nought.

The value proposition has to boldly start now, with and from us. So, why not Day of the Seafarer 2025 communicating value to the world? That would seem a good starting point, and whatever the real-world dollar numbers it seems likely that seafarers are the most valuable workforce on the planet. A message we have to communicate willingly and proudly. So, are we ready?

For those who want to really double down on the whole International Day vibe, June 25th also happens to be Global Beatles Day. So as seafarers need Help, perhaps it is fitting that instead of looking to Yesterday, we Come Together and understand A Day in the Life of crews and do Something so seafarers do not have to plead Don’t Let Me Down.