This has been declared the Year of the Seafarer by the IMO, and both Nautilus International and the Norwegian Seamen’s Union (NSU) said they hope that this will be more than a PR effort.This has been declared the Year of the Seafarer by the IMO, and both Nautilus International and the Norwegian Seamen’s Union (NSU) said they hope that this will be more than a PR effort.

“We support the Year of the Seafarer,” said Johan Oyen, director of cruise operations at the NSU and chairman of the ITF Cruise Ship Task Force. “And we hope the ILO Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) will be ratified for implementation to start next year.

“Unfortunately, seafarers who in the past have been recognized for helping to build communities and made significant contributions in armed conflicts, are now almost treated like criminals in many ports and denied shore access.” Oyen added.  “Because they come from many different countries, they are often regarded with suspicion.”

At Nautilus, Secretary General Mark Dickinson said that “seafaring is the forgotten profession.

“It has slipped off the radar screen for the average British and Dutch, whereas in the past everybody knew somebody who was at sea,” he said. “Also, in Great Britain it is popular to refer to the proud history of the British Royal Navy, while in reality it was the British merchant navy that built the empire, if you will.

“The Year of the Seafarer will, if anything, lift the profile of the seafarer and that has our support.”

While working conditions at sea may be better than ever – at least for western shipping companies, and especially on cruise ships, the days are long – often 10 hours – and 70 hour weeks. That is comparable to the offshore industry, Oyen noted, but seafarers spend longer periods of time onboard and away from the families and friends, which is an issue that will not go away.

Oyen said on cruise ships senior officers can work 10 weeks and have 10 weeks off, compared to the lowest positions that can require a 10-month contact with two to three months off.

“The pay level varies, depending on where seafarers are from,” he noted. “For the lowest positions, nobody from North America or Europe can survive on the pay, but it can be acceptable in the Philippines, for instance, and as they move up the scale, the pay becomes very attractive.

“Some lines are also gender- and nationality-blind and will promote based on ability. At Royal Caribbean, for instance, the sky is the limit regardless of where crew is from,” Oyen said.

Dickinson also said that the Carnival Group is recognized in the UK and the Netherlands to be among the best seagoing employers. 

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Spring 2010