SAS closure: A farewell plea

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Tanya Blake, SAS editor. Credit: IHS Markit

After more than half a century, Safety at Sea is closing, but maritime must continue to fight for crew.

It is with sadness that I write that this will be the final issue of Safety at Sea. After 53 years, this December 2020 issue will be our last. I have had the honour of being in a long line of editors tasked with covering the most pressing safety issues affecting shipping to educate and inform our readership and to shed a light on the failings in the maritime industry. I hope that we have served our readership well.

While gladly we have come a long way in safety over the past five decades, there are some safety issues that still plague us today. Reading through the first issue of SAS in 1967, it featured ways to beat condensation in cargo spaces as well as questions about the seaworthiness of converted ships, which bring to mind similar discussions prompted by the sinking of converted very large ore carrier Stellar Daisy on 31 March 2017. It seems there are some problems that never quite go away, no matter how far we think we might have come.

It is these persistent safety issues, from misdeclared cargo to minimum safe manning numbers, that we must continue to be vocal about and push for reform. Ultimately, it is seafarers who pay the price when shipping turns a blind eye to safety and there can be no excuse for not doing everything in our power to ensure they are protected in the work they do. Although safety standards in shipping have improved drastically in the past 50 years, there are still too many seafarers being injured and working to ensure world trade keeps moving – the SAS State of Maritime Safety report revealed that between 2015 and 2019, there had been 527 crew killed and a further 509 declared missing. This will likely not reflect the true figures due to issues with reporting.

Seafaring is a dangerous job in a challenging environment, and we must continue to invest and do all we can to stop the safety issues that cause so many needless crew deaths. This is none more important than in our current global plight. The pandemic has thrown the lives of many upside down. For many crew, either stranded at sea working far beyond their contractual period, fatigued and fearful or those stuck ashore and unable to earn money to support their family, it has been an enormous struggle. The mental health toll it will take on whole generations of seafarers will be sizeable. Furthermore, when the pandemic is over we will also have to face the numbers of crew lost due to COVID-19 and other illnesses – many crew are still unable to receive or even denied healthcare ashore  – and those who have sadly taken their lives due to the extreme circumstances they have found themselves in.

For now, we must continue to battle on to support seafarers. The crew change crisis is an untenable situation, and it is beyond the realms of human reason that crew should suffer from the indifference and inaction of governments any longer. This is why shipping must shout louder about its value to the world, to every country benefiting from medicine, food, and personal protective equipment to keep them running through this crisis, and every person happy to see their ordered goods arrive on their doorstep. Shipping is essential, crew are vital, and it is abhorrent they have and continue to be treated with such disdain or are simply ignored altogether. I hope that as SAS will no longer be able to add its voice to this issue – and other pressing safety issues that the maritime industry faces – others will continue to battle hard for crew, their rights, and their safety. It is needed now more than ever.