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Letter to the Editor: Let’s salute merchant seafarers

Today is Merchant Navy Day, a reminder of the ships and their crews bringing commodities and goods whatever the weather or circumstances

The seven seas are an unforgiving environment and heavy seas, storms, hurricanes and danger are ever present. Over 100 merchant seafarers died last year


Today (September 3) is Merchant Navy Day. The annual Merchant Navy Day service at the Merchant Navy Memorials, Tower Hill, and the Annual National Service for Seafarers, administered by charity Seafarers UK, at St Paul’s Cathedral in mid-October, are cancelled.

Early lockdown panic buying caused shortages. Supermarkets and suppliers did their best to steady the ship and soon most of us could again buy essential goods. 

One reason that was possible was the same reason it’s been possible for our having uninterrupted supplies of most things for most of our lives — merchant ships bring goods to our ports 24/7/365.

Merchant Navy Day Sept 3 2020Some 95% of UK trade by volume (75% by value) comes and goes by ship. Merchant seafarers are often unsung heroes in our nation’s story, their ships bringing energy supplies and goods to our islands whatever the weather or circumstances.

Over 30,000 merchant seamen lost their lives in the Second World War (a death rate higher proportionately than in any of our armed forces), merchant ships carrying the food, fuel, armaments and troops essential to victory around the globe. 

The seven seas are an unforgiving environment and, while sailors sometimes enjoy calm seas and a prosperous voyage, heavy seas, storms, hurricanes and danger are ever present — over 100 merchant seafarers died last year. Early this year cruiseships were at the centre of another storm — Covid-19. 

Over 50,000 other ships — bulk carriers, general cargo, specialist and containerships, tankers, ferries and trawlers — have, however, continued to ply the seas, wearing our Red Ensign or Blue Ensign or flags of other seafaring nations.

Twenty million containers are crossing the globe right now. Of the world’s 1.6 million merchant seafarers some 300,000 are stuck at sea, unable to leave their ships, world travel restrictions having denied routine crew changes. 

For many seafarers life is hell right now, without them your life might be hell too. Let’s salute merchant seafarers — our essential workers at sea.

Yours faithfully,

Lieutenant Commander Les Chapman (Senior Warden, Honourable Company of Master Mariners)
Mark Dickinson (General Secretary, Nautilus International)
Rear Admiral Jeremy Larken (Managing Director, OCTO)
Vice-Admiral John McAnally (National President, Royal Naval Association)
Captain Justin Osmond (Chief Executive, Shipwrecked Mariners Society)
Guy Platten (Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping)
Captain John Sail (National Chairman, Merchant Navy Association)
Commodore Bob Sanguinetti (CEO, UK Chamber of Shipping)
Catherine Spencer (CEO, Seafarers UK, King George’s Fund for Sailors)
Rear Admiral Bruce Williams (Editor, The Naval Review)
Rear Admiral David Snelson (Chief Harbourmaster, Port of London, 2006-11)
Commodore Richard Bridges (Commodore (Amphibious Warfare) 1982-84)
Commodore Barry Bryant (Director-General, Seafarers UK 2002-19)
Commodore Michael Clapp (Commodore, Amphibious Task Group, Falklands War 1982)
Michael Everard (Prime Warden, Shipwrights’ Company, 1989-90)
Commodore Jamie Miller (Naval Regional Commander, Wales and Western England 2004-17)
Captain Martin Reed (Master, Honourable Company of Master Mariners 2017-18)
Commodore Ronald Warwick (Commodore, Cunard Line 1990-2006)
Captain Malcolm Farrow (President, The Flag Institute)
Captain Malcolm Smith
Captain Gordon Wilson (Head of Defence Studies (Navy) 1987-93)
Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour
Commander Giles Collighan (Hon Secretary, The Anchorites)
Commander Mike Evans
Commander David Hobbs
Commander Sharkey Ward
Lieutenant Colonel Ian Berchem
Lieutenant Commander Jamie Black (Chairman, City Naval Club)
Lieutenant Commander Mike Critchley
Lieutenant Commander Bob Eadie
Lieutenant Commander Lester May
Richard Shuttleworth (President, The Old Pangbournian Society)
Dr Anthony Wells

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