The Life of the Modern Seafarer
Fifty years ago this month, on Friday 22nd November I became the proud possessor of a Second Mate (FG) Certificate. My celebrations were muted by the news that day, that the President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy had been assassinated.
How our industry has changed since then. In 1963 the British Merchant Navy was still a global leader with many famous shipping companies – Port Line, Clan Line, Ben Line, Bank Line, NZSCo, Blue Star, Blue Funnel, Brocklebank’s, British India SNCo to name, but a few. Most of the ships of these companies had been built by British shipyards. The dramatic decline and fall of British shipbuilding was yet just a few years away and I for one, was blissfully unaware of the coming “containerisation” revolution just over the horizon. It was to sweep away these fine general cargo liners and the names of many of the famous fleets.
What of course was also changing, was the way of life for seafarers. Today’s mariners face very different and perhaps more difficult challenges, both in their work and in their social life onboard at sea or when in port. Way back then, in these general cargo liners, we enjoyed long spells in port - learning about and enjoying the life and culture of the countries visited. There were few barriers to shore leave, as we enjoyed freedom of movement in most ports with just a few exceptions, eg Communist China. Life onboard, when at sea, was also pleasant socially, with substantial crew numbers and established daily routines with little or no day to day communication with head office.
The life of the modern seafarer is, I feel, much more stressful, with much greater regulation, less time in port, smaller crews and thus greater isolation - this despite modern technology and communication. Any incident is subject to great scrutiny and possible legal action against the ship’s senior officers. They bear heavy responsibilities.
Despite all this, a maritime career should remain an attractive and challenging one for the young, bright officers of today, with greater facility than before to leave seagoing at some point to pursue a shore appointment in the maritime cluster.
What has not changed in the last fifty years, is the vital role the British merchant marine plays and will continue to play in the life of this nation.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR