In the world today there are men and women who perform a thankless task and without whom the world would just… stop. They don’t get the praise of the first responders: the doctors, nurses, firemen and police officers or those on the front lines in the fight against terrorism the soldiers, airmen and sailors of the armed forces.
They work behind the scenes for a paycheck they won’t be able to spend for months on end. With no chance of being publically recognised for the sacrifices they make, being presented with medals for their service, or being thanked by you for what they do.
They are the invisible workers who like Santa’s little helpers do all the work and yet get none of the thanks or appreciation for their hard work. When they come into port there’re no crowds to greet them, no ticker-tape flying or joyful music playing.
They are greeted by hungry machines, eager stevedores, and officials rushing demanding papers, performing checks and filing reports as they rush to load or discharge valuable cargo. Bringing all the items that we want and need, for there is no lack of demand for the goods they bring be it food, cars or medicine.
They are the sailors of the world's merchant fleet, the invisible workforce. Men and women, who spend their lives on the open oceans facilitating over 90% of global trade. They do it without complaint spending up to a year at times away from family, friends and what we consider to be “normal life”. They don’t get to go home or leave their place of work, they travel with it, live on it, breathe it and feel it every day.
On ships made of steel where there is no respite from their day-to-day only in their dreams can their mind be free: no walking to the shops, going out to have a coffee or an after-work drink. The sound and vibrations of the engine are ever-present that the mind eventually drones out.
The distractions they find are in the marvels of nature that can be found all around. The sight of schools of flying fish breaking the surface of the ocean and flying briefly through the air before disappearing once again to the depths. Looking like wisps of light ever so fleeting and puzzling easily mistaken for something mystical, otherworldly and mysterious. It’s not until the binoculars are taken out that the mystery fades and their true forms are revealed crystal clear and yet still mysterious.
The bonds of friendship they form with their fellow crews last for a lifetime, these strangers quickly become like family, brothers and sisters with whom lifetime memories are made. As they travel around the world together sharing stories, playing games and talking for hours on end.
The world's vast oceans are the last true wilderness that exists in today’s modern world. Working at sea is a different life than most of us will ever know, being at sea for long periods changes those who do it. These sailors don’t have a 9–5 they have ship time, especially when at sea on a watch system 4 hours on 6 hours off as they cross oceans and timezones. All the while thinking of returning home and all that waits for them there.
Yet when they return home they do so with such joy and ecstasy, that it’s hard to explain let alone put into words. Seeing someone that they didn’t just spend the past 10–11 months with, be it the taxi driver or someone who catches their eye at a coffee shop before they board their plane home. When they do finally return home whether it’s the sight of a friend, family member or loved one not seen for what seems to be an eternity it brings an instant tear of joy to their eyes, as a blissful smile slowly comes to their face almost unable to believe where they are. This is the peace before the storm before they rush to embrace the person they haven’t seen for so long with happiness literally exploding out of every pore. It is so powerful that their loved one isn’t ready for it as they get swept off their feet. This energy they carry with them infects and enlivens all those around them. Just being with those who know what they do, the sacrifices they make and who appreciate and love them all the more for it.
You’re likely asking yourself why have you called them the “invisible workforce”? It’s because these men and women of the world’s merchant fleet to the governments of the world might as well be “invisible”. We all had a tough time during the Covid-19 lockdowns etc but we weren’t stranded at sea, we weren’t considered a non-essential part of the workforce, we were home in our own beds and at least able to go to the shops etc. They weren’t able to travel home and at one point over 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships because they weren’t and still aren’t considered to be essential workers. There are still some 200,000 seafarers still stuck on their ships unable to go home because they haven’t yet been recognised as essential workers something that is well overdue.