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Open letter highlights seafarer heroism and suffering on Merchant Navy Day

3 September 2020

Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson has added his name to an open letter which highlights Merchant Navy Day and draws attention to the continued plight of seafarers around the world due to the crew change crisis.

The letter, which appears in the Daily Telegraph, has been signed by maritime industry and naval leaders. It calls on the public to celebrate the past and current contributions of merchant mariners while also informing them about the 300,000 seafarers still trapped aboard their vessels.

This is part of the Union’s effort to address ‘sea blindness’ among the public, many of whom do not realise the extraordinary contribution that seafarers have made to keep the country functioning during Covid-19. The text of the letter is as follows.

Today is Merchant Navy Day.  The annual Merchant Navy Day service at the Merchant Navy Memorials, Tower Hill, and the Annual National Service for Seafarers, administered by charity Seafarers UK, at St Paul’s Cathedral in mid-October, are cancelled.

Early Lockdown panic buying caused shortages.  Supermarkets and suppliers did their best to steady the ship and soon most of us could again buy essential goods.  One reason that was possible was the same reason it’s been possible for our having uninterrupted supplies of most things for most of our lives – merchant ships continued to bring goods to our ports 24/7/365.

Some 95% of UK trade by volume (75% by value) comes and goes by ship.  Merchant seafarers are often unsung heroes in our nation’s story, for their ships bring goods and energy supplies to our islands, whatever the weather or circumstances.  Over 30,000 merchant seamen lost their lives in the Second World War (a death rate higher proportionately than in any of our armed forces), merchant ships carrying the food, fuel, armaments and troops essential to victory around the globe. 

The seven seas are an unforgiving environment and, while sailors sometimes enjoy calm seas and a prosperous voyage, heavy seas, storms, hurricanes and danger are ever present – over one hundred merchant seafarers died last year.  Early this year cruise ships were at the centre of another storm – Covid-19. 

Over fifty thousand other ships – bulk carriers, general cargo, specialist and container ships, tankers, ferries and trawlers – have, however, continued to ply the seas, wearing our Red Ensign or Blue Ensign or flags of other seafaring nations.  Twenty million containers are crossing the globe right now.  Of the world’s 1.6 million merchant seafarers some 300,000 are stuck at sea, unable to leave their ships, world travel restrictions denying routine crew changes

For many seafarers life is hell right now, without them your life might be hell too.  Let’s salute Merchant Seafarers – our essential workers at sea.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Dickinson (General Secretary, Nautilus International)

Rear Admiral Jeremy Larken (Managing Director, OCTO)

Vice Admiral John McAnally (National President, Royal Naval Association)

Captain Justin Osmond (Chief Executive, Shipwrecked Mariners Society)

Guy Platten (Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping)

Commodore Bob Sanguinetti (CEO, UK Chamber of Shipping)

Richard Shuttleworth (President, The Old Pangbournian Society)

Catherine Spencer (CEO, Seafarers UK, King George’s Fund for Sailors)

Rear Admiral Bruce Williams (Editor, The Naval Review)

Commander Giles Collighan (Hon Secretary, The Anchorites)

Rear Admiral David Snelson (Chief Harbourmaster, Port of London, 2006-11)

Commodore Barry Bryant (Director-General, Seafarers UK 2002-2019)

Commodore Michael Clapp (Commodore, Amphibious Task Group, Falklands War 1982)

Michael Everard (Prime Warden, Shipwrights’ Company, 1971-72)

Commodore Jamie Miller (Naval Regional Commander, Wales and Western England 2004-2017)

Commodore Ronald Warwick (Commodore, Cunard Line 1990-2006)

Captain Malcolm Farrow (President, The Flag Institute)

Captain Malcolm Smith

Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour

Commander Mike Evans

Commander David Hobbs

Commander Sharkey Ward

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Berchem

Lieutenant Commander Jamie Black

Lieutenant Commander Mike Critchley

Lieutenant Commander Bob Eadie

Lieutenant Commander Lester May

Dr Anthony Wells


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