The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the professionalism and sacrifice of the two million seafarers who serve on the world’s merchant fleet. Shipping has continued to transport more than 80% of world trade, including vital medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical for the COVID-19 response and recovery
International shipping transports more than 80 per cent of global trade to peoples and communities all over the world. Shipping is the most efficient and cost-effective method of international transportation for most goods; it provides a dependable, low-cost means of transporting goods globally, facilitating commerce and helping to create prosperity among nations and peoples.
Every year on September 24, World Maritime Day is observed to understand the importance of the marine environment, the impact of industries on the oceans and marine life and the well-being of seafarers who spend months away from home.
The theme for this year’s World Maritime Day was “sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet” – in line with the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs of the United Nations. World Maritime Day is a great opportunity to disseminate information and spread awareness about proper management of the oceans and saving the water bodies from pollution, which destroys the fragile marine environment. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its Member States are working towards achieving the SDG targets. This year the role of seafarers is in the forefront amid the COVID-19 pandemic as they sail from shore to shore with cargo and other humanitarian work.
Due to the prevalent pandemic, this year’s World Maritime Day was celebrated on 24 September 2020 in the form of an online event. A global audience heard how innovation, the maritime workforce and the role of industry and governments can work to realise shipping’s sustainable future.
Mr. Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General, in his World Maritime Day message stated that 2020 saw everyone across the globe affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet this global crisis has demonstrated the importance of shipping as the most reliable, efficient and cost-effective method of transporting goods internationally. Shipping remains the leading facilitator of the global economy, carrying more than 80% of global trade. “Therefore,” he continued, “shipping and maritime will be at the heart of the economic recovery and future sustainable growth far into the future, both at sea and ashore, supporting an inclusive and resilient economy to underpin the achievement of the sustainable development goals. ‘Sustainable Shipping for a Sustainable Planet’, our theme for 2020 couldn’t be more relevant now and for years to come.”
Secretary-General Lim added, “In the post-COVID world, much focus will be directed at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all UN Member States in 2015. These goals are as relevant as ever, and shipping is essential for sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating the global economy,”.
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in a message said, “I remain very concerned about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing hundreds of thousands of these indispensable workers. Despite the unprecedented conditions brought about by the pandemic, seafarers have continued to tirelessly support the often-invisible global logistics chain. Physically and mentally exhausted, away from their families and loved ones, their time at sea has now been extended far beyond the standards stipulated in international conventions, with some tours of duty now stretching more than 17 months. Fatigued seafarers cannot operate indefinitely, and disruptions to international shipping would have devastating consequences.
“I renew my appeal to Governments to address their plight by formally designating seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”, ensuring safe crew changes and implementing the protocols developed by United Nations agencies, as well as the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, allowing stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships.
“In the longer term, a sustainable shipping industry is vital. Shipping will play a central role in achieving most, if not all, of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. But, shipping activities must be balanced with the long-term health and biodiversity of the oceans. The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed global standards which support cleaner and greener shipping. Governments and IMO must continue to work together to support the decarbonization of shipping and improved energy efficiency; the facilitation of shipping through increased digitalization, involving ports; and efforts to ensure the sustainability and protection of the workforce, including a focus on diversity.”
Mr. Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s Union Minister for Shipping, addressing the online event, said, “Greeting to all seafarers and stakeholders of Maritime Sector on World Maritime Day. COVID-19 Pandemic has highlighted professionalism and sacrifice of the 2 million seafarers. Shipping has continued to transport more than 80% of world trade, including vital medical supplies.”
Abdulgani Serang, General Secretary, NUSI, appreciating The Union Minister’s efforts to ease the problem of signing-on, signing-off says, “The shipping fraternity appreciates your dynamism, support and action. No government in the world has done what Govt. of India has done regarding crew change of more than 1,00,000 seafarers including foreigners during COVID 19. We are proud.”
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan took to Twitter and wrote, “…I would like to extend my gratitude towards the 2 mn+ merchant fleet personnel all over the world. Despite several hurdles faced during COVID-19, their unwavering professionalism ensured continuity in transport of key goods and supplies globally.”
H.E. Mr. Robert Courts, Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security, Department for Transport, United Kingdom, emphasised the need to protect the marine environment, saying that “today’s summit is testimony to our international efforts. It is right that as we build our way out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we double down on protecting our environment to deliver a greener future”.
Mr. Alastair Fischbacher, President Elect & Trustee at The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) said, “The pandemic has not changed our shared sustainable shipping target, but raised the issue that in a competitive world, it is easier to follow than to lead – easier to let others take risks”. The solution, he said, was coordinated, international cooperation.
The event heard from the WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean a.i, Dr. Jaouad Mahjour, who said that “strong action calls for more collaboration between the health sector and the maritime sector because health is a shared responsibility”.
The message of shared responsibility was also raised in response to a question on how to combine ambitious goals on international ship emissions and sustainable growth of developing countries.
On the topic of maritime careers, Ms. Birgit Liodden (Ocean Opportunity Lab) said the old way of looking at maritime careers was outdated, and that a “lifespan’ approach that mixes onboard and onshore work was needed. “We need to move to achieve work-family fusion” to attract the best and broadest range of talents, because new generations have “different values and expectations about how they are spending the hours in their lives”, she said.
The issue of ocean plastic was also discussed, with H.E. Prof. Ricardo Serrão Santos, Minister of the Sea, Portugal, emphasising that “to tackle the problem of illegal littering we need new approaches and mechanisms which goes beyond regulation. We need to adopt measures within a circular economy and focus on systematic approach involving all stakeholders”.
The IMO selected “Seafarers: at the core of shippingʹs future” as the World Maritime theme for 2021, highlighting a clear need to raise awareness of seafarersʹ vital role in world trade and increase their visibility.
The World Maritime theme for 2021 also links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals ((SDGs)- particularly SDG 4 on education and training; SDG 8 related to decent work; SDG 9 on innovation and industry, which links to the promotion of a resilient maritime sector; and SDG 5 on gender equality, inked to efforts to promote seafaring as a career for all, including women, in particular.
Moreover, the theme can be viewed as an extension of the theme for 2020, namely “Sustainable Shipping for a Sustainable Planet” as seafarers are at the core of that theme, as well.