Why we need to back the unsung heroes of this pandemic – seafarers

Paul Jennings, chief executive of North

You might be getting the weekly shop delivered to your front door these days. From your bunch of bananas to your bag of pasta, your bags are full of produce that’s travelled across oceans to reach your kitchen cupboards.

It’s a huge logistical feat that happens week in, week out – regardless of a global pandemic.

And the people who make that happen are among some of the unsung heroes of this crisis. Almost 1.2million of them are at sea at any one time. Seafarers do an enormously important job that, even in the best of times, often involves significant sacrifices.

It’s not just food, of course. Fuel, clothing, medicines, building materials, electronics and much more that’s essential to daily life is brought here by ship.

Seafarers forgo seeing their families and friends for weeks and months at a time, to make all this possible and it’s been happening for hundreds of years.

For the last 160 years, North has been supporting and championing the seafarers who do this vitally important work. Many of us, both now and throughout our organisation’s long history, have first-hand experience of what life at sea is like and understand the toll this job can take on mental and physical health.

Our expert teams in the North East and across the world count many mariners among them. That’s why in July – at a time when an estimated 200,000 were stuck at sea – we called for seafarers to be recognised as key workers.

In some cases, crews were denied medical attention on shore, and many were left in limbo as repatriation processes fell apart due to a patchwork of competing border restrictions and delays.

Research from the latest Seafarers Happiness Index, published by the Mission to Seafarers, shows anxieties and homesickness are among the major burdens on our mariners.

What’s clear as we continue to navigate this pandemic is that seafarers must not be left in those situations again.

As a Newcastle-headquartered organisation with worldwide influence, we’d love North Easterners to be proud that one of their region’s most established businesses is supporting a group of workers that give so much but are rarely talked about, let alone celebrated.

Back in the 1860s, when the ‘North of England Iron Steam Ship Protecting Association’ – the beginnings of our company today – was formed, shipping was a hugely dangerous industry, responsible for thousands of deaths every year.

Since then continual technological innovation, improved safety expertise and environmental understanding have made the picture a lot better. Much of that innovation and expertise comes from the North East, by the way.

Last year North launched a new digital tool to keep seafarers and ships safe from threats such as extreme weather, piracy and war. GlobeView is an interactive 3D map that gives mariners real time information to help them avert danger.

More recently the platform has played a key role in helping crews to navigate the complex web of country-specific port restrictions brought about by coronavirus. In fact, nearly 3,500 people in the international shipping industry have used the technology.

GlobeView has helped our seafarers quickly identify key data from the World Health Organisation – allowing them to make important decisions and keep vessels operating under difficult circumstances.

We’ll keep innovating to make sure we match seafarers’ tremendous efforts with the support they need to do their jobs safely.

In addition, North has also recently ringfenced £40,000 of its North 150 Fund for maritime charities, including the Sailors’ Society and Mission to Seafarers. This support will go towards grants for struggling seafarers and their families, as well as much-needed mental health resources for those working at sea.

Let’s get behind our seafarers.

North is a leading global marine insurer with over 160 years of history in the industry. Our purpose today remains as it was on our inception in 1860; to enable our members to trade with confidence.