Let’s acknowledge the immense debt we owe to seafarers

Let’s acknowledge the immense debt we owe to seafarers

By Ross Brewer - MMHN director and chair of Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA)

Through the ravages of COVID-19, we need to be thankful to many of the land-based people who have helped in getting us through this period – the health workers, police, defence personnel, utility crews, caregivers of all kinds – the many volunteers. Without their help we would be much worse off.

However, there is another group of essential workers, seldom mentioned, who are also making a major contribution to our wellbeing – and that of the entire of the world – seafarers. Australia’s past and present relies to a huge degree on trade by sea. The main reason that Australia’s economic life is faring as well as it is, is due to the continued export and import trade – vast amounts and great value of materials and products by ship.

We rely on ships for our day-to-day consumables, fridges, building materials, clothing – the list goes on. Yet this essential global maritime trade relies on the work of seafarers who spend most of their time cooped up in a small space aboard cargo ships, with minimal or no shore leave in port due to COVID-19. They do not see their families for months on end. Yet without seafarers our lives would be much worse off.

So, Docklands residents, next time you see a cargo ship in your ’hood, give a wave – a gesture at least, a “thank you” to these men and women who are doing such a wonderful job helping us through these times.

Seafarer services

On a similar note, OSSA joins MMHN in acknowledging the work done for these seafarers when their ship is in port and they are able to go ashore.

The Mission to Seafarers and Stella Maris Seafarers Centre have been run ragged through this time delivering outstanding service to help seafarers. Their work can extend to taking orders for and delivering grocery items, medical needs, newspapers and books, etc. OSSA members are, of course, particularly sensitive to the needs of those at sea, many having had long and diverse careers in the maritime sector themselves.

So, if you have a moment, do go, on their websites and have a browse as you will find it really interesting – missiontoseafarers.com.au, stellamaris.org.au

Maritime skills shortages

OSSA is also acutely aware of Australia’s vulnerability in the face of looming maritime skills shortages.

A report was recently issued by the shipowners, charterers and shipbrokers membership organisation, BIMCO, and the International Chamber of Shipping highlighting the worldwide shortfall of qualified ships officers. The report estimates a current global shortage of 30,000 and, into the future this will increase to around 80,000.

Here in Australia a recent Skills Survey conducted by Maritime Industry Australia Ltd (MIAL) showed a similar pattern. Clearly this is national threat. Such evidence is certainly reason for OSSA and MMHN to advocate to all levels of government, pressing for a sharper focus on maritime training of all types to be established in Victoria – and ideally in Docklands.

In addition to this advocacy, OSSA is approaching the skills shortage from another angle: we need to make sure that young people (and their careers teachers!) are aware of maritime career options. OSSA has devised and are rolling out a school program – offshorespecialistships.com/school-program – directed at secondary school students and showing the variety of careers in the industry, both ashore and afloat.

Maritime heritage advocacy OSSA members’ enthusiasm and affection for “old boats” is not surprising. Many members have worked as volunteers restoring the Heritage Fleet in Docklands on Collins Wharf. But, not far from Docklands, in fact a ferry ride to Williamstown, is a very special place most Docklanders would enjoy seeing – Blunts Boatyard. This boatyard has been operating in the same family for 170 years, which is remarkable.

Greg Blunt (the current owner/operator) is the fifth generation and Greg’s son is also working there. The boatyard is Victorian heritage-listed and it is a delight to visit. There is no doubt that Blunts Boatyard is one of Melbourne’s maritime treasures. Sadly, COVID restrictions prevented the yard being on Melbourne’s Heritage Open Day this year •

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