For those in peril…

The industry is urged to continue to fight. Many would of course fight for themselves, had they the voice or the audience
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By Jonathan Spencer

I guess it is hardly surprising that another online media title goes under. The maritime space is saturated with news, market and comment outlets, as well as myriad platforms recycling the same.

It is though no less sad to have one less outlet to champion seafarers. Safety at Sea, a renowned leader to that effect and, after 50-plus years, IHS Markit is to cease publication.

The industry is urged to continue to fight. Many would of course fight for themselves, had they the voice or the audience. Connectivity at sea being just one issue.

Advocacy – the oxygen of democracy – starts with awareness. The press is that vital Fourth Estate; it informs, educates, exposes, campaigns …shouts! Safety at Sea has been that voice through the thick and thin of crewing issues it has rigorously pushed up the agenda.

Minimum safe manning numbers: corners must not be cut in safety with autonomous shipping. What may appear attractive on paper must not be a blueprint for disaster.

Condensation in cargo spaces, the liquefaction of dry bulk destabilising the vessel, or simply older and weaker hull structures remain other causes of seafarer deaths, and not least in rough seas.

Shipping is absent from the minds of most people – until it’s their stuff in the container lost offshore, or fuel prices rise – or plummet – at the pumps. Alternatively, in the public psyche maritime holds to its romanticised narrative in mainstream fiction and fantasia.

We know the reality couldn’t be more different. Lives at sea matter and Safety at Sea has banged that drum for half a century. Right now, you could say they matter more than ever. Crew changes and transfers in disarray – largely due to the prolonged fracture of flight schedules and tightening health restrictions at ports – has left more than 400,000 seafarers in limbo.

We have handled cases where seafarers are stranded for weeks, months, aboard vessels where they are no longer under contract – often breaching the 11-month maximum allowed under international treaty. Other cases have highlighted the tensions where port authorities impose such seemingly impossible requirements, adding increased costs for operators as seafarers are cooped up in hotels, often on forced leave, separated from families.

Commercial shipping hasn’t quite the glamour of aviation – although it may have had the last laugh, as vessels haul everything including protective equipment, medicine, food …and, if Santa be quarantined or restricted, your Amazon orders also this digital Christmas.

Of course, it’s no joke at all. We might well imagine what could be better than being flung far out to sea; far away from desolate high streets, social distancing and one beleaguered news story; resilient to the months of semi-isolation the job demands.

Ashore the global conversation is about mental health and lack of social contact impacting the human condition. Being so far from home has similar concerns and consequences. On top of fatigue – a perilous risk in any operational job – mental health presents a warning light maritime can’t ignore.

Ashore, we can put rainbows in our windows or clap for healthcare workers and truck drivers. Absolutely right, we should. But spare a thought – a column or web post – for crews all at sea and all those others stuck between a dock and a hard place.

Frontline workers at risk certainly includes seafarers. So, we salute Safety at Sea for their legacy of esteemed watch-keeping on the issues – and lives – that matter.

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