Calling it a day

What happens when you wake up on any particular day and you realise that today is THAT day?

I’ve often wondered what goes into the creation of a day. Not in terms of how the sun rises and sets or anything else relating to the laws of nature – but rather: who decides on the creation of international days that recognise various topics or groups, and how does one go about getting the world to agree to mark it on their calendar?

Today is International Maritime Day 2021. The United Nations (UN), via the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), created World Maritime Day to celebrate the international maritime industry’s contribution towards the world’s economy, especially in shipping. The event’s date varies by year and country, but it is always held during the last week of September.

According to sources on the internet, World Maritime Day was first held on March 17, 1978 to mark the date of the IMO Convention’s entry into force in 1958. 

Traditionally (before the advent of COVID-19) a country would be chosen to host a parallel event. Last year would have seen South Africa step up to meet the challenge of hosting international maritime dignitaries had travel not been impeded by the pandemic.

As such the pomp and ceremony has been replaced by virtual commemorations and observances of the date. The theme for this year reflects a clear need to raise awareness of seafarersʹ crucial role in world trade and increase their visibility. The crew change crisis in 2020 highlighted seafarersʹ contribution as key and essential workers on the front line of delivering vital goods through a pandemic and in ordinary times. The international community has seen how the ability for shipping services and seafarers to ensure the functioning of the global supply chains has been central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic.

Sadly, however, a day of observance is just that. Since the start of the pandemic we have observed two International Seafarer Days and now two World Maritime Days – and still seafarers are struggling against unfriendly regimes and port authorities in some places.

And so, as everyone scrambles to show that they know what day it is and prove that they care by sharing messages on social media and distributing press releases about how they intend to observe the day – we lose sight of the day’s underlying intention. Everyone simply observes the day and tomorrow carries on with their business as usual.

Well – next month is Maritime Month in South Africa and our challenge should be to act on the many resolutions we have made in conferences, workshops and seminars over the years that remain unfulfilled.

In fact – we should make all the days we have in our calendar count.

DATEDAY OF OBSERVATIONINCEPTION
23 MarchWorld Meteorological Day2021
2 MayWorld Tuna Day2016
5 JuneInternational Day for Fighting against IUU Fishing2016
8 JuneWorld Oceans Day1992
25 JuneInternational Day of the Seafarer2016
25 JulyWorld Drowning Prevention Day2021
30 JulyWorld Day against Trafficking in Persons2013
27 SeptWorld Tourism Day1980
SeptWorld Maritime Day1978
5 NovWorld Tsunami Awareness Day2015
LIST OF UNITED NATIONS DAY OF OBSERVANCES RELATING TO THE OCEAN

#BringBackOurSeafarers

Over the last few weeks the Bring Back Our Girls (#bringbackourgirls) campaign has ignited quite a following across the globe. Initially fueled by many people’s outrage that the media had all but ignored the story, this grew to a lambasting of international super-powers for not stepping in to assist Nigeria find the girls. Mostly the argument followed the rather simplistic course that, if this had happened to 200 white schoolgirls the media would have been all over it and that if it was a situation that jeopardised America’s access to oil then they would have sent in the troops.

This is not the place to debate either of these suppositions and certainly the plight of these girls is one of grave concern. Indeed the message to Bring Back Our Girls has gone viral and everyone is standing up in support of it: from the ANC Women’s league to individuals keen to pen, blog and tweet about it to get in on the action. Even corporates are parading employees in front of cameras and posting photos of them holding up signs with the Bring Back Our Girls message on them – some of them in the maritime industry.

So damn it – where is the #BringBackOurSeafarers campaign? Why is every shipping company, support company, port company, importer, exporter and seafarer not jumping up and down for more media coverage about the plight of 54 seafarers who are still being held hostage in deplorable conditions. According to the recently released document on the State of Maritime Piracy by Oceans Beyond Piracy these seafarers have been held in captivity for almost three years.

“Substantial work must still be done in the interest of saving the lives of the 54 high risk hostages who remain in pirate captivity almost three years after their capture. Moreover, the continued ability of pirates to hijack small vessels such as dhows and fishing vessels is a continued risk. It is important to remember that piracy is not only a threat to the free flow of goods, but also to the well-being of individual seafarers, regardless of their vessel size or nationality. It is evident that the number of hostages in captivity, while trending downward, remains of immediate relevance to counter-piracy work and should be prioritized by the maritime and international communities,” the report says. 

While I am personally doubtful of the true effectiveness of viral campaigns such as the one directed at releasing the Nigerian schoolgirls and feel they simply help us feel better about being powerless in the face of such atrocities; what if they are even slightly successful in seeing their safe return as a global eye is turned to the situation?

What if viral campaigns do prompt the appropriate action? Then the maritime industry needs to be more active in pushing the agenda. Yes we have had successful intervention at sea in the form of naval presence, armed guards and vessel hardening – but 54 seafarers are still no closer to going home. So as you spare a thought for the schoolgirls and their families – spare a thought for those seafarers and their families and consider some action. #BringBackOurSeafarers.

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