World Maritime Day is organized each year in the last week of September under the banner of International Maritime Organization (IMO). This year, the day is being celebrated with the theme of “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future”. The purpose of the theme is to highlight the role of seafarers in the maritime safety and security; protection of the marine environment; as well as seafarersʹ welfare; and how to ensure an appropriately trained and qualified future seafarer workforce, ready to meet the challenges of increased digitalization and automation.
With many technological upgrades and transportation options that have been introduced to the world, shipping still remains one of the most cost-effective and sustainable method of transporting goods. This is why 80 percent of the global trade is carried out via shipping. Shipping ensures that the benefits of commerce and trade are more evenly spread. It helps each and every country in selling what it makes and buying what it needs. No country is entirely self-reliant and thus no country can function without shipping. This is because everything from medicines to raw materials for products are being shipped. Without even realizing, we all depend on shipping for our daily needs.
Now the ships carrying goods don’t travel on their own but are run by the seafarers, from nearly every country of the world. The seafarers make sure that the operations run smoothly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Seafarers are essential for the safe, secure and efficient operation of ships and contribute to the protection of the fragile marine environment. According to UN estimations, around two million seafarers are continuously working to deliver 80% of global trade for the world’s population. Without seafarers, the flow of vital goods, services and global commerce would grind to a halt and post COVID-19 economic recovery will be impossible. Seafarers have always been at the heart of IMO’s work and this year provides an opportunity to delve into specific topics and issues relevant to the role of seafarers.
Seafarers’ lives and livelihoods have been significantly challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has impacted seafarers’ ability to access routine medical care, or to get medical assistance in the event of an accident or health event. Due to their unforeseen longer periods on board, seafarers are facing expiration of essential medical prescriptions. In April 2021, around 200,000 seafarers are stranded on board ships, and another 400,000 are unable join on board resulting in economic hardships. Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue to operate ships and many of them have already spent more than a year at sea, well beyond their original contracts and acceptable safe working practices, without a proper rest and far away from their loved ones. A 2019 study found that isolation, loneliness, lack of shore leave, fear of criminalization, fear of job loss and separation from family all predispose seafarers to mental ill-health.
Another area of concern for the seafarers is piracy and armed robbery against ships and other illicit activities, despite progress in reducing incidents in some areas. In recent years, particular focus has been placed in the areas like Gulf of Aden and the wider Western Indian Ocean to suppress piracy, armed robbery and other illicit maritime activities. Since these threats have not been “eliminated” and need to be taken seriously, therefore seafarers are urged to remain vigilant when navigating through those regions. In addition to these traditional threats, seafarers must also be aware of how to address non-traditional threats to shipping that have emerged over the last few years, such as cyber risks.
Protecting the environment, sustainable shipping Seafarers have responsibilities to ensure ships operate and navigate safely, avoiding accidents and preventing accidental pollution such as oil spills. So, seafarers are to ensure operational wastes -including sewage, garbage and plastic litter – in order to avoid pollution. Seafarers are also at the core of implementing more recent mandatory requirements, such as ballast water management, and can be proactive in saving energy on board, to address GHG emissions from ships.
Digitalization– such as electronic data exchange of information – has become part of shipping and will no doubt further develop in the future. Digitalization of trade and customs procedures can ensure the fast and secure exchange of data and information, facilitating seafarers’ administrative work. Digitalization has the added benefit of minimizing the need for physical interactions – an important consideration in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it will improve access to digital technology for seafarers, including e-mail and the internet. Increased connectivity can benefit seafarers.
The integration of new and advancing technologies in shipping will have an impact on personnel, both on board and ashore. Technological advances will inevitably affect shipping but will be gradual and vary by region. Workers will be affected in different ways based on their skill levels and the varying degrees of preparedness of different countries. But these affects can be marginalized if the seafarers are to be equipped in future with advance training and technology based knowledge.
As an important member of the IMO, Pakistan is aware of its core responsibilities and in this regard, Pakistan Navy reiterates country’s commitment to create awareness about the maritime sector in the country and to promote the maritime economy. World Maritime Day is considered as the most important day in Pakistan and therefore, various activities are being organized on this day to create awareness among the masses regarding the role of seafarers. The Pakistan Navy is fully supporting the development of the country’s maritime sector by bringing together innovation, stability and maritime security in the maritime sector. Whether the problems are conventional or non-conventional such as piracy, drug, and human and arms trafficking, the Pakistan Navy has remained and will remain fully vigilant on the seas and shores to deal with them.
The Pakistan Navy will continue to play an important role in global and national efforts to protect the seas. On the occasion of this World Maritime Day, the Pakistan Navy reiterates its commitment to fully cooperate in the development of the maritime sector in general and in the development of the shipping industry in particular. The tide is turning, and there are many role models leading the way. More needs to be done to improve diversity in seafaring – by Governments, by training institutes, by companies, so that equal opportunities could be given to all.