Saturday, July 24, 2021 | ISSN 0719-241X
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March 15, 2021 The crusade to relay seafarers Conversation with Maria Dixon, expert leading the initiative since the start of the pandemic

It has been roughly 13 months since the pandemic unleashed across the world and no one is oblivious to the many tragedies that qualify as ‘side effects’ of the virus without being directly infected: moving restrictions, quarantines, lockdowns, etc. The indirect -but very real- impact of the virus in shipping was visible with a certain delay a few weeks after people stopped going to shopping centers and the sharp drop in demand for consumer goods was strongly felt … those goods that crews load, care for and unload in their travesties on high seas visiting the ports of the planet and connecting the world one container at a time.

The activism in favor of the affected did not take long in giving them voice and visibility, where Maria Dixon, CEO ISM Shipping has led a true crusade for seafarers to return home. “In February 2020 I was already following closely the news on LinkedIn regarding the pandemic and the maritime industry. One day, someone posted for the first time about not being able to do crew changes, and I very naively asked ‘maybe this is silly, but can’t they just fly them back home on a private plane?’ … Someone answered back: ‘it’s not silly, the problem is that the border, the airport and the country are closed on lockdown.’ That to me was an incredible shock. I just could not believe that this was happening and little by little I started to get involved meeting people that would write to me after reading my posts, joining in on the pleas which at first were weekly, then they were on a daily basis. Currently, they are 5-6 day. I am fortunate because thousands of people read my posts and share them, reflecting that there is consciousness on the anguishing reality that seafarers are living,” says the executive during an exclusive conversation with MundoMaritimo.

Pro-bono

Those who are involved in the cause know very well that more than just talking about the issue they have to propose solutions and that is exactly what Maria and her company decided to do. “We decided that our company would help with seafarer’s documentation, such as exemptions and extensions and not charge for them. We have done this pro-bono in order to help seafarers, the shipping lines and the operators, without any additional cost for them. Also, in parallel I have been consistently raising awareness in social media, optimizing words to explain the problem without too much detail,” adds the self-acclaimed activist for seafarer’s rights, who goes on that this is not the first humanitarian ‘tragedy’ that seafarers face. “This started with pirates. Seafarers need to know that when they are being held captive by pirates that are people thinking about them and working for their safety and wellbeing,” she adds.

State and international responsibility

In Dixon’s words, it is the flag states and the international organizations that have failed seafarers by not legislating effectively for their safety and wellbeing regarding repatriation policies under extreme circumstances. “This has been a domino effect where after the initial falter everyone else failed as well. China failed when it did not give everyone a timely warning, that’s the root of the problem. In terms of traceability, we have all failed. Heads of state do not have real visibility, they only know what their ‘yes man’ tell them, so they don’t think about the keyworker,” explains the expert that has been leading initiatives for repatriation of seafarers for the past year. However, the effects of this work are yet to be seen, because as it is in shipping, results take time. “This has escalated little by little, and the tensest moment was in the midst of lockdown. The extensions we simply not enough and there was a point where you just couldn’t throw people overboard because they had extended any and all possible legal periods of working. Everything was chaos. The it started to fall into place,” she remembers.

Change mentallity

As it is in all things related to COVID-19, the microscopic virus is here to stay and change society redefining the way we relate. Among these changes, maybe the most important one, is the consciousness that the virus is a reality and that it is up to everyone to protect the spaces and places where we move so as not to spread the virus violently. Cruise ships, for instance. “Cruise ships are floating cities. There are cities in the world that have less population than people on a cruise, adding passengers and crew. So, the crewmembers are very much committed to keeping the vessel COVID-free, protecting it, because it is their source of livelihood and, in the same way, the passengers should -and must- be well educated into understanding and being aware of the importance of respecting the sanitary and coexistence rules on board in order to protect everyone involved,” reflects the leading executive of ISM Shipping.

Another measure that should be a requisite -says Dixon- is that anyone who comes on board a passenger or cargo vessel should have a negative test. “It is no use to have sanitary measures on board if suddenly an inspector, for example, comes on board and doesn’t have a test result to prove they’re not sick and ends up infecting the crew all for a routine inspection.” 

No shipping = no shopping

Being aware of the vital role of seafarers on board a ship is key for understanding that they are a crucial part of satisfying the need for consumer goods in society. From food to medicine, vehicles, machinery, technology, raw materials, etc., everything is transported by sea and if there are no people to operate the vessels the goods cannot be transported. “No seafarers = no shipping = no shopping. It’s that simple”, highlights Maria. “If people, the public opinion and governments become aware of the importance of the maritime industry and its contribution to economies, what the maritime industry represents, they would be much more respectful about the seafarers’ situation. They are always there for us: natural disasters, pirates, wars, pandemic. The world that is benefitting from seafarers’ work is not treating them with the respect they and the industry very much deserve. It is up to schools, education ministries, heads of State that do not have shipping in their thoughts, they give their backs to the sea, we are invisible to them and therefore we do not exist. That’s the initiative: raise awareness, visibility and highlight the importance of the service seafarers provide for everyone. People don’t know, but if they knew they would change their minds.”

By MundoMaritimo

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