In our feature on the ways on which seafarers measure success we looked at the ways in which people view others. The snapshot decisions they make as to how successful or important someone is. So how do people view the value of seafarers today?
Society, technology, industry – all rest on and rely upon shipping. The goods, fuel, food that are moved across the globe, they are done so with ships…and so seafarers make the world the place it is.
Without seafarers bravely, tirelessly and skilfully making shipping work, then the world as we know it would grind to a halt. This is a fact…but sadly it all too often seems to escape the attention of the wider populace.
There is a blindness, and even ignorance about what goes on at sea. Sadly it seems that people are too busy getting on with living to worry about how their life happens.
If you think this is a new problem or issue, think again. Back in 1900, Frank Bullen wrote these words, “The overwhelming importance of our over-sea commerce to Great Britain cannot be too greatly emphasized, while the astounding ignorance of maritime matters manifested by British people generally makes one gasp in amazement”. Alas people didn’t care then, and they don’t seemingly care now.
Yes, over a century ago even on a small island surrounded by sea, people didn’t seem to care or worry much about shipping. This is a pattern which has spread over time and distance, now it seems that most of the world is blind to the sea, to seafarers and the ships who make everything happen.
The views of a writer over a hundred years ago may not convince you – so lest we forget that others have joined the debate in more recent times. Respected authors Rose George and Horatio Clare, both hopped on Maersk ships to see the world of shipping and of what it means.
They were both moved by the lives and tails of seafarers – but they too were seemingly left surprised and disappointed that ships seem to be a secret. They are almost hidden in plain sight. Ask people how oil, televisions, or cars arrive in their country and they will likely look perplexed.
It seems that globalisation has reached such engrained proportions that people are astonished that there are large gaps between countries. Very wet, very big gaps – between the places who make, mine or drill things and the places where people use them.
To you, a maritime professional, reading about people’s ignorance on shipping may come as a shock. You may even disbelieve the levels of stupidity – but sadly they do exist.
When the Icelandic volcano “Eyjafjallajökull” grounded aircraft around Europe, we actually heard people asking whether we would now run out of oil or food! Really – proper grown up people, adults – who have been to school. They thought planes brought our cargo in and kept the country alive. Amazing.
If you need further convincing, Twitter is a great source of idiocy and proof that being able to operate a smart phone doesn’t require you to be smart. There are people who have asked whether the “Titanic”, was “like an actual, real boat”.
So, stupidity, ignorance, and plain blindness are not distant traits from history – they are colouring our present. Sadly this means that it is increasingly difficult for seafarers to be valued and to receive the props they deserve.
When society doesn’t know, recognise or care what you do, then it can hit professional esteem pretty hard. It means that for every voyage, cargo and risk of death or injury a seafarer makes – there are so few who know or understand what they have gone through.
Does professional esteem matter? Well our natural reaction is to assume it does. We think that professional esteem and the feeling of being respected are hugely important.
Self-esteem is a vital component of happiness, a feeling of worth, and can help drive people to achieve greater things. So for seafarers, the respect and esteem which others hold are important – as they shape the way people react and reach out.
Seafarers today are facing a difficult dilemma – it seems that there is a lack of awareness of what they do and its importance. This then translates into difficulties ashore, crews going ashore are no longer recognised and respected as they were. We are as reliant as ever, if not more so, on seafarers – but society seems to have turned its back.
It is not just shore leave that becomes more problematic. Seafarers can also struggle to gain employment ashore, as there is a disconnect between employers and the amazing skills that those at sea gain. Sadly, even companies in the maritime industry can sometimes be dismissive of seafarers – questioning whether they can make the jump to an office, and wondering whether they will be cut out for a career ashore.
This then impacts heavily on future recruitment. Young people do not see or understand what it is to be a seafarer, so when they choose their careers it is all too easy to overlook or dismiss going to sea.
We need to work hard to ensure that seafarers and shipping are recognised, respected and their work celebrated. We have to get the word through – and it may take more than woolly hat days, or celebrations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
There needs to be a better way of showcasing and highlighting where the goods, fuel and food we all rely on comes from. Or where it goes. We need to educate society on the role of trade, of the flow of capital, cargo and the creation of health, wealth and happiness which shipping and seafarers bring. We need to change perceptions and to boost the esteem and respect that are afforded to those who work at sea.
What do you think can and should be done to boost the image of seafarers and shipping? Or do you think we are destined to remain an invisible part of the supply chain? Would more recognition make a difference?