On International Day of the Seafarer, while it is imperative to designate seafarers as key workers, it is equally, if not more important, to recognise them as human beings with real needs.
They’re the ones that are confined to cabin spaces for months on end, battling unreal conditions and very real ones such as mental health, homesickness, loneliness and fatigue.
This is a breakdown of the trials seafarers face at sea as denoted by verse and then explained in prose:
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
explored in a boat many sorrowful places,
the terrible tossing of waves —
where the narrow night-watch
often seized me at the stem of the ship
when it crashes upon the cliffs.
Seafarers work in shifts which can be very lonely especially during late nights and early mornings when they are on watch.
During these times, like any of us, they long for the comfort of home and the company of loved ones that are often thousands of miles away and in different time zones.
Oppressed by chills were my feet,
bound up by frost, with cold chains,
where these sorrows sighed
hot about the heart — hunger tearing within
the sea-wearied mind. He does not know this fact
who dwells most merrily on dry land—
how I, wretchedly sorrowful, lived a winter
on the ice-cold sea, upon the tracks of exile,
deprived of friendly kinsmen,
hung with rimy icicles.
Seafarers often battle very harsh climatic conditions while at sea – when they have to endure the elements and yet, continue to remain focussed and do their jobs.
Those next to the polar regions have to deal with bitter cold and months of darkness. They do not see land for weeks and months, especially if they are on large ships that cannot call on many ports.
And while they do see many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, wouldn’t such sights be delightful if shared with loved ones?
Every man must keep himself with moderation,
to those beloved and those he deadly hates,
even though he may wish them be filled with flames
or burned up upon a pyre,
his own confirmed friend. Outcomes are stronger—
the Measurer mightier still—than the thoughts of any man.
While on board for extended periods, not all crew get along with each other. One can empathise with being in a confined space with someone you have differences with for an extended period of time.
Seafarers do go through counselling and are taught to deal with these issues but again, they are only human and in times of stress and anxiety, tempers might flare and horns may lock.
At these times, they remember what they are there to do and how crucial the part they play in global trade is and they bash on regardless.
Let us consider where we should possess our home,
and then think about how we may come there again—
and then we should strive also
so that we may be allowed to do so,
into those eternal beatitudes
Seafarers are constantly thinking about their loved ones, those back home and look forward to reuniting with them and relaxing at the end of a tough ‘contract’.
Their jobs are stressful and consist of breakdowns and inspections, quick turnarounds and complex operations.
They take their responsibility very seriously when on board as they are often dealing with very high-value assets and cargo. If they did not put in the work, we would not have access to most things we see around us.
Today, on International Day of the Seafarer, take a moment to look around you and appreciate all the things you have and how they got to you.
On this Day of the Seafarer, think about the faceless seafarer, his or her family and say a silent prayer for the approximately 1.6 million seafarers around the world who are either stuck at sea or unable to join ship during this difficult time.
Excerpts from the Poem, The Seafarer