London. The UK. Today, marks the Day of the Seafarer, an annual IMO-led day that aims to recognize the vital role seafarers make in our everyday lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, seafarers have undertaken what amount to be heroic efforts to continue providing the world with the goods it needs while they have been often ignored, have been failed to be repatriated in a timely manner, and have had their contracts often extended in excess of legal norms. This year’s theme is a fair future for seafarers, but with the following question to be asked: “Can this can be achieved?
Human Rights at Sea has interviewed Yrhen Balinis, a young, driven and passionate Filipino seafarer currently serving at sea and who this year, became the youngest member of the HRAS Non-Executive Advisory Board.
In his interview Yrhen shares his thoughts on the profession, the challenges seafarers particularly young cadets face, the opportunities he sees, and what the future should look like. We thank him for his time and his passion set against the background of increasing calls for seafarers to be recognized as key workers and better respected.
HRAS: What lesson can you identify; the one learned the hard way, for seafarers and the maritime industry during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The world is largely dependent on the work of the seafarers. At the onslaught of this pandemic, the world lulled to asleep, the roads became eerily silent but not the seas; it remained in perpetual motion to deliver everyone their needs. I don’t think people understand enough how difficult life at sea is. True, some may have the theoretical knowledge of the adversities: the insurmountable wave heights, the ravaging storms, the long working hours, and the tough living environment. But not until they have embarked on a journey as a seafarer will they realize what these brave heroes are made of— we are 10% salt, 10% iron, 1% vomit, and are still 100% human beings.
HRAS: In your experience as a young seafarer, what area of seafaring would you like to see and what change does the maritime sector need?
Augment the gap in training to adapt to maritime technological advancements; increased remunerations, and better living conditions, including access to shore leave and internet connections.
As we advance towards autonomous ships, may we not forget the human factor of seafaring. In advocating for human rights, let no human be left— not even those at sea.
As the Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) advocates “all persons at sea, without any distinction, enjoy human rights at sea,” other maritime players must also see the benefit of:
Leveling the playing field among applicants seeking careers at sea;
Providing adequate mentorship and learning opportunities towards continuous learning progress;
Appropriating substantial compensation/allowance;
Creating conducive working and living environment on board;
Inspiring fair, gender-equal treatment and encouraging ideas for a positive safety culture.