Day of the Seafarer – honouring the 1.5 million seafarers worldwide

Featured in the Telegraph Journal on June 24, 2021

If you are close by the harbour on June 25th at noon, you may hear some noise. Ships horns will sound in recognition of the Day of the Seafarer, as designated by the International Maritime Organization, a body within the UN that governs the safety, security and environmental aspects of international shipping.

Men and women of virtually every nationality make up the 1.5 million seafarers in active employment in the global market.  The types of jobs onboard include deckhands, cooks, technicians, marine engineering officers, and navigational/deck officers – all with specialized skills for their position. Together they are responsible for moving over 90% of the world’s goods. Some estimates indicate that over 10 billion tonnes of cargo is moved by ship annually, representing a value greater than $15 trillion USD. Everything from consumer goods to petroleum is moved in this way.

Seafarers live and work in a remote and sometimes dangerous environment, in order to keep global trade flowing. They are one of the less visible groups of workers that play a role in helping us enjoy our high quality of life. They typically have contracts to serve on board for three to four months at a time, before earning the ability to go home for a short break. But many seafarers have contracts that are much longer than four months, with the maximum allowable being twelve months. Unfortunately, the pandemic has resulted in tens of thousands of seafarers being required to remain on board well past the twelve-month maximum. At one point during the pandemic, it was estimated that over 400,000 seafarers were stuck onboard their ships for greater than twelve months, usually with no ability to leave the ship unless for a medical emergency. Although this number has been gradually decreasing, a growing problem is the lack of access that a seafarer has to obtain a Covid 19 vaccine. This may be a result of shortages in the seafarer’s home country or insufficient time at home after self-isolation is completed.

At Port Saint John, seafarers arrive on a diverse number of ship types. Potash and scrap metal are exported from Port facilities, with those commodities being carried on bulk carriers. Food-grade commodities like fish oil and molasses are imported at Port facilities on specialized tankers. Containerized goods are imported and exported at Port facilities on specialized container ships. Other forms of general cargo are imported and exported on multi-purpose type ships. Also within the Port are privately owned facilities that import such things as crude oil and liquefied natural gas, and export refined petroleum, all of which is carried on specialized tankers.

To put this into context, in 2020, 26 million tonnes of cargo moved through Port Saint John. It took 805 ships to carry this amount of cargo.  With an average number of twenty-four seafarers required to crew each ship, that equates to over 19,000 seafarers that visited our Port last year.  This number does not include the thousands of seafarers that work on the many cruise ships that visit Saint John.

In addition to the mostly foreign national seafarers visiting our Port, there are a significant number of men and women from our local region that work on the water every day to keep our Port moving. These seafarers work on tugs, pilot boats, and other service vessels that are required to facilitate the movement of ships through the Port.

Seafarers may need support from time to time due to the remote nature of their work. Various seafarer welfare organizations exist around the world and our Port is very fortunate to have one such organization, the Saint John Seafarers Mission.  This local charity’s primary mandate is to provide support to visiting seafarers. The types of support services are quite broad, but one of the main objectives is to help be a “home away from home”. Whether it is simply a place to get away from the routines on board ship (during non-pandemic times), to having a safe and secure place to make a call home, or to obtain assistance with a personal matter, the Saint John Seafarers Mission is a much needed and valuable resource. If you would like to show your appreciation, please consider volunteering or donating to this worthwhile organization.

On this Day of the Seafarer, please take a moment to appreciate the important work these men and women perform.

Captain Chris Hall

Captain Chris Hall is the Vice President, Operations & Harbour Master at Port Saint John. He currently serves as the President of the Master Mariners of Canada, executive council member of the International Harbour Masters Association, and the vice-chair of the Saint John Seafarers Mission.