Recognising and valuing the seafarers

Seafarers are the lifeblood of global shipping but they are often overlooked by the world and even their own nations 


MALAYSIA’S economic development is heavily dependent on maritime commerce, owing to its strategic location in the centre of Asian trade routes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

Considering shipping conducts such a significant portion of global trade, it may be considered one of Malaysia’s key driving forces. 

Malaysia’s government prioritises maritime transportation as part of the country’s goal of achieving the industrial revolution. 

According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Review of Maritime Transport, Malaysia ranked 31st in the world in terms of fleet ownership by deadweight and 23rd in terms of leading flags of registration by deadweight in 2020.

Significantly expanded freight volumes must be handled securely and effectively between origin and destination, necessitating the appointment of skilled seafarers. 

Seafarers are the lifeblood of global shipping. Every seafarer is expected to maintain a high degree of competency to always ensure the ship’s safety. 

Unlike most other professions, seafaring requires individuals to leave home and spend substantial periods of time working at sea, isolated from normal life. 

Nevertheless, seafarers are considered a neglected profession, overlooked by the world and even their own nations. 

Their efforts are frequently made behind closed doors. However, many people are unaware of the importance of seafarers, resulting in seafarers not receiving the necessary support. 

The Covid-19 pandemic further highlights the struggle of seafarers. We should take a glance around and ask, who is supporting our seafarers? And who is truly assisting in bringing about constructive change for their career? 

Numerous of them have been impacted by crew changes and are unable to sign off on time. 

Along with the problems encountered by seafarers, there is no longer any shore leave allowed, there is a requirement for a lengthy quarantine period that is often unpaid, and they may have encountered issues boarding the ship. 

Malaysia have demonstrated its effectiveness in adapting health laws to meet the country’s needs, yet why do seafarers need to undergo a lengthy process to complete all the procedures for embarking or disembarking the ship. 

Concerns about their mental and physical wellbeing should not be overlooked due to the extended period of time spent on board ship. 

Fatigue, depression and panic attacks impair an individual’s capacity to accomplish duties properly and safely. As a result, assisting them in coming home, visiting their family and being with our loved ones is vital. 

The relevant maritime stakeholders, namely shipowners, seafarers’ organisations and other NGOs, must give high commitment and share their interest with relevant government agencies to provide comprehensive and coherent guidance to limit the impact of the pandemic on seafarers. 

It is truly said that seafarers are vital elements of the maritime industry who have worked tirelessly to maintain the global supply chain operating and that abandonment should not occur. 

They are the unsung heroes of the outbreak, who have persisted through hardship to deliver supplies and essentials to our homes, despite health concerns and international travel restrictions. 

Thus, they deserve heartfelt gratitude for their dedication and contributions to society as well as for being the strong pillars of the global maritime trade and supply chain. 

The government and its agencies must collaborate closely with all stakeholders to assist the wellbeing and welfare of seafarers. 

Seaborne trade is predicted to still grow at annual rates of a minimum of 3% to 4% by 2030, and if we do not provide them with fair working conditions, they will seek a better job onshore, and thus the high demand for professional seafarers to serve the shipping sector will never be fulfilled. 

A competitive and sustainable maritime industry is in Malaysia’s long-term interest and essential to the nation’s prosperity. It is probably time for us to treat them with the respect and value they deserve; otherwise, hiring foreign seafarers to support the local economy would be a huge loss for the country. 

  • Dr Izyan Munirah Mohd Zaideen is senior lecturer at the Faculty of Maritime Studies, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. 
  • Captain Mohd Faizal Ramli is a seafarer and EHS marine specialist in oil and gas sector. 

The views expressed are of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.