Seafarers play a critical role as the guardians of our oceans, MAJ webinar hears

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The importance of seafarers in preserving the marine environment and ensuring international maritime regulations such as MARPOL (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) are properly enforced was the focus of a high-level webinar, entitled ‘Seafarers, MARPOL and the Marine Environment’, hosted by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica as part of its Day of the Seafarer activities last week.

“Seafarers play a critical role as the guardians of our oceans,” commented leading Jamaican trade and development specialist Patricia Francis, former Assistant Secretary General and Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, as well as the former President of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO).

Highlighting the actions Jamaica is taking to safeguard its marine environment, preserve fish populations, protect biodiversity, and ensure sustainability, Ms Francis challenged: “Why should we care?”.

She went on to outline the importance of the blue economy to Jamaica and the Caribbean region, spelling out the vital contribution the marine environment makes to Jamaica’s gross domestic product, its trade, export, and employment market. Pointing to the tourism sector she observed: “We sell sun, sea and sand”, emphasising how crucial Jamaica’s waters are to this Small Island Developing State (SIDS).

The critical position that seafarers find themselves in when balancing maritime operations with marine protection was emphasised in a presentation by Dr Carolyn Graham, a senior lecturer at the Caribbean Maritime University and passionate advocate for the safety, health and welfare of seafarers.

“Seafarers are basically ‘caught between the devil and the deep blue sea’,” she stated, demonstrating in detail how seafarers can be unfairly criminalised for the actions in the event of an environmental incident even when marine investigators confirm they have correctly followed international maritime procedures. Seafarers are expected to be the custodians of regulations but are not always properly supported in their role, she explained.

Pointing to a 2019 survey by Nautilus International, which found criminalisation to be one of the greatest fears of seafarers, Dr Graham said seafarers can be seen as “easy targets” when countries demand for “heads to roll”. She urged seafarers to “know your rights”, know where to find help, and to ensure they work for “reputable companies”.

The webinar was fortunate to hear first-hand from a serving seafarer, Second Officer Darren Gordon sailing on LNG carriers, who stressed the importance of properly maintaining critical onboard equipment stating, “there is no room for error.” Recalling just two experiences of minor spills from throughout his lengthy career he described how “immediate action” is crucial to prevent damage to the marine environment. The safety of the environment supersedes everything and all operations are stopped when a leak is identified, he told the webinar.

Training is crucial to equip seafarers with the up-to-date skills they need to properly operate latest technology and comply with maritime regulations, according to Captain Devron Newman, Dean – Faculty of Marine and Nautical Studies of the Caribbean Maritime University and an accomplished maritime education and training professional with more than 30 years’ experience.

He told the webinar that digital solutions, such as e-learning and virtual reality tools, are providing additional training opportunities to enable seafarers to upskill as onboard technology rapidly evolves, although he stressed that there will always be a need for hands-on experience and in person tuition too. “Stay updated,” he advised seafarers.

Speaking for the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, marine surveyor Sheldon Clarke, a qualified Chief Marine Engineer, outlined seafarers’ responsibilities under MARPOL, particularly in relation to sewage, garbage and oil disposal. He stressed the importance of correctly maintaining equipment and accurate record keeping. He agreed with Dr Graham that sometimes crew efforts are adversely impacted by the shortage of correct waste facilities onshore.

The 90-minute webinar, which took place on Thursday June 29, was moderated by Sean Moloney, CEO of Elaborate Communications and co-founder of London International Shipping Week, who praised the quality of the presentations and highlighted the importance of personal testimonies from people actively engaged in the maritime sector.

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