Transportation of goods across the oceans has justice issues with seafaring laborers facing extended isolation and increasing danger from piracy. Churches must begin to raise their own awareness as well as others’.
Britain suffers from a distinct “sea blindness,” said Rev. David Potterton, principal port chaplain for the Sailors’ Society.
Ninety-five percent of world trade is transported by sea, yet people reliant on this trade are largely unaware of this and the conditions in which seafarers work.
“As a church, we need to be aware of our dependency on the seas,” he told The Baptist Times.
“If you look around a church building, very little will have been purchased in this country,” Potterton said. “If the seafarers stopped working, in 10 days things would grind to a halt. There would be no electricity, food, iPods.
“But the cost we pay for these items is not as much as the personal cost the seafarers pay.”
Potterton said that while the majority of seafarers work for responsible shipping companies, thousands do not.
Even if they do, the job involves incredible isolation, he said. Seafarers are away from home for up to 11 months a year. Vessels can be unloaded in just 10 hours before turning around, giving the workers precious little time on shore.
The majority choose the job to escape poverty in the countries they come from, yet largely miss out on the life they fund, Potterton said.
These tough conditions have been exacerbated in recent years by an increase in piracy.
Currently, 700 seafarers are being held, many off the coast of Somalia in appalling conditions. However, the coasts off Indonesia, Malaysia, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Tanzania and the Caribbean are all now susceptible to armed attacks.
Around a decade ago, pirates would ask for around $100,000 for hostages, said Potterton. That has now jumped to the millions.
“It’s a growing, lucrative business,” Potterton said. “We are now hearing time and time again about the fear of being attacked. It’s haunting the seafarers.”
Internationally, governments have been slow to respond, and this is an area where Christians can make a difference, he said.
Twenty-five of the world’s maritime industry groupings have initiated a campaign calling for governments to take a firmer stance to help eradicate piracy.
The campaign is endorsed by the Sailors’ Society. Potterton encouraged Christians to support it and send letters to their governments.
“If we can, let’s put pressure on governments to better police the areas where there are attacks. It’s about drawing government’s attention so they can play their part.”
He said there have also been discussions with the Fairtrade Foundation, which empowers disadvantaged producers in developing countries by tackling injustice in trade, about greater accountability on the whole journey a product makes.
“The coffee leaves the farm, and then might go on a lorry that’s unsafe, and be taken to a port where people are working without safety.
“They can do their bit at the start and we at the end, but there are concerns right along the line,” said Potterton.