… There are millions of merchant marines in the world serving on ships of all sizes including freighters and oil tankers. The Philippines are the most represented in the field with over 700,000. Without the sacrifice of these men and women, world commerce would come to a halt. Wall Street may be the key to our financial institutions; trucks the key to shipping goods overland; but sailors manning the ships out on the sea are the glue that holds the world economy together.
… The average mariner can expect to be away from port for months at a time. It is probably the number one issue that professional mariners would change if they could. Some companies have started offering sailors year round contracts with a steady salary thus mollifying the sacrifice of months away from family. For most mariners, the issue is far from resolved.
… Though entry level mariners gain their education from the school of hard knocks, those interested in making a career of it must earn degrees or take courses to qualify themselves for better paying positions. In some countries, they must appear before boards whose members are sometimes described by sailors as being rude, unfair, and often outdated in their own knowledge. This makes advancing oneself difficult.
… Because of the economic climate today, many shipping companies are cutting back on ships and jobs. This leaves less good jobs for qualified mariners who work hard to promote themselves.
… Being a mariner is not a job for pansies. Hazards abound and death at sea, although not commonplace, happens. Dying thousands of miles from a loved one is difficult. Imagine the emotional and financial stress for family back home when they receive word their husband, father, or son has died at sea.
… One of the real hazards at sea is still from pirates. They often attack a ship, take what is of value including personal possessions of sailors, then leave. Those are the lucky ones. Other pirates, well-armed and ruthless, think nothing of brutalizing crew members. Still others take the crew as hostage and will not surrender them or the ship till a ransom of thousands of dollars has been paid.
… From Treasure Island and Pirates of the Caribbean, we have learned the common cause of death for mariners is pirates or drowning. It may surprise you to know that top causes of death are accidents. Some are from falling from great heights; others from falling overboard. One of the greatest hazards comes from confined space. Depending on the type of space, the danger could be from fire, electrocution, poisonous gasses, crushing from loose cargo, high temperatures, or injury from slipping on wet surfaces. And this list is far, far from definitive.
We owe an incredible debt to mariners whether they answer the call of the sea for money or adventure. Include in that group commercial fishermen, members of the merchant marines, ferry and tugboat operators, workers on cruise ships, and many more brave men and women who know what the demands of life on board a ship entails.
And make no mistake about it. The men and women who serve in the United States Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines and around the world are a special breed of mariners. Along with the aforementioned, they willingly put themselves in harm’s way for their country not only in war time but in times of crisis when life, limb, and property hang in the balance.
Much has been made of the dangers from pirates these past several years. With more than one sailor losing his life to these ruthless cutthroats, they are a force to be reckoned with. The luckier ones have been held ransom while loved ones a world away wait for years in dread and uncertainty.
But pirates aren’t the only peril mariners face when the last vestiges of land disappear. As stately and rugged as they are, ships today still must face the ferocity of storms at sea. How many men and women lost their lives just in this past year because of storms? Only the other day, a Russian trawler went down within minutes with fifty-four dead and fifteen missing. The death toll would have been far worse if not for nearby sailors risking their lives to save those in the frigid, choppy waters.
Old or poorly maintained ships are yet another hazard many mariners around the world must deal with. Alas, it’s a fact of life that for some companies the bottom line supersedes the lives of those who serve on their ships.
Ask any mariner working on a fishing boat or cargo ship about the dangers they face on any given voyage. It’s not a reflection on the captain or crew. It’s the nature of the job. Equipment doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. Long hours and weariness take their toll, making it easier for accidents to happen.