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The coronavirus is deadly but not deadly enough to curtail maritime sloganeering. Paeans to seafarers are once again pouring out in the lead-up to the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ (25th June).

As usual, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is leading the chorus. The theme it has chosen for this year’s celebration is #SeafarersAreKeyWorkers. The hashtag signifies that the IMO expects the message to spread like a virus on social media and sundry places in the internet.

No problem. The entire shipping community and the maritime press will instinctually repeat the message. Never mind if it is stodgy and lacks imagination (aren’t medical professionals and deliverymen also key workers?). The IMO has created a cult out of the Day of the Seafarer, and the cult members are spellbound.

Bandage on the wound

Says the IMO on its website: “The (2020 Day of the Seafarer) campaign encourages everyone to treat seafarers with the respect and dignity they deserve so that they can continue to provide their vital services to keep world trade moving.”

Those words are like a small bandage on the large pscyhological wound of seafarers stranded by the thousands in foreign ports and harbours because of COVID-19. That so many men and women who work at sea have to undergo such an ordeal points to a collective failing of the global shipping community.

One huge anomaly 

It has not crossed anyone’s mind that the Day of the Seafarer is one huge anomaly. In a 2016 article, Marine Café Blog pointedly asked why the annual celebration was being spearheaded by the IMO and not by the International Labour Organisation:

“Indeed, why not the ILO, the UN agency dealing with labour standards and promoting decent work for all women and men? Is it not the ILO that sanctified seamen’s rights through ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and similar treaties that came before? What has the IMO got to do with the rights and welfare of seamen?”

These questions are still relevant in 2020. That nobody is raising them is not surprising. We are dealing with a cult with a church built upon slogans and followers ready and willing to sing the hymns composed by the leader.

~ Barista Uno

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