Gina Panayiotou, founder of the Oceans Arena, on how the industry needs to ensure its heart is in the right place.
When I first joined the shipping industry and I would proudly say I worked in shipping, outsiders would either assume that I was doing something that had to do with boats, or that amount Amazon charges on an order. In fact, hardly anybody visualises the process behind the latter – i.e. that product once produced or packed is transported to a port, loaded on a vessel and sails across continents on a ship manned by crew.
If I asked you which is the most important organ in our body, most if not all, will say the heart. The truth is we have 78 organs in our body, five of which are vital for our survival, but our heart has the strongest PR campaign running. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has “branded” cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of deaths worldwide and this is enough for us to know that the heart is pretty important and we should be doing everything we can to keep it healthy and running smoothly.
– “The world’s biggest killer is ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16% of the world’s total deaths… rising by more than 2 million to 8.9 million deaths in 2019.” [World Health Organisation] –
Impactful? That is exactly the power of effective branding. You are probably wondering by now what does this have to do with shipping. It took a pandemic for a whole industry to stand together and demand that governments denote seafarers – the heart and core of this industry – as key workers. Yet, industry stakeholders continue to work tirelessly, run campaigns and initiatives to try and convince governments of the why. I mean why would the people who man an industry responsible for 90% of global trade, who did not pause a day when the world went in shutdown, ensured we had food and supplies in stores, medicines in our hospitals and latterly jabs in our arms, why would they not be deemed key workers?
Governments are failing to see this, which proves how this is not a crew change crisis alone, but rather an ongoing PR crisis of our industry. This is exactly why we need an impactful rebranding of shipping, we owe it to our seafarers, who are the ‘heart’ of supply chains and world trade. These people are the VIPs of this pandemic, along with those other key workers ashore who did not allow the world to fall apart. When whole nations were clapping for nurses and doctors for their stellar performance during these challenging times, the world forgot about those 400,000 seafarers working tirelessly to serve us, whowere denied access to return home, could not receive the medical treatment necessary, could not get back to loved ones in need, and had to work contracts for many more months in exhaustion. And unfortunately, despite the UN resolution and the repeated calls for action by the IMO and industry associations such as the ICS and ITF, only 53 states have acknowledged seafarers as key workers.
Just as we take care of our heart (or should be) to maintain its vitality, it is our duty to ensure that the mental state of the people in which such great responsibility is vested, is safeguarded. We need to simplify processes and provide limitless accessibility and mobility, granting them the oxygen and privileges they deserve to efficiently beat on. In the words of IMO secretary general, “A humanitarian crisis is taking place at sea and urgent action is needed to protect seafarers’ health and ensure the safety of shipping.”
It is time to ‘rebrand’ shipping today, bring it onto the main stage and let it shine for what it provides to the world, making every seafarer not only a key worker, but the VIP he/she is.