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International Day of the Seafarer

Nautical student Craig shares his insight into the industry and his chosen career path.

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Hello! My name is Craig, and on this International Day of the Seafarer, the wonderful people at CitySA have asked that I share some of my own insight into the industry and career path I have found myself on.

Firstly, I will share my experiences studying at the College/in the Nautical and STEM faculty. Needless to say, it’s hard to get excited academically in the particularly difficult circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has left the world in throughout the length of our course. In spite of this, I have nothing but commendations for the lecturers and college staff who have gave their all to ensure we receive the education we need to prepare us to go to sea. I can’t say I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about online learning, but the college has put in the utmost effort to continue to accommodate our needs, and practical, in-person workshop training, which along with my Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping certificates, have far and away been the highlight of my first phase thus far.

Next, the obvious question – what made me want to become a seafarer? In truth, I wish I could answer this with some unique and inspiring speech about how the sea is my one true love, but I think the reality is much the same as for many others in the industry; seafaring provides an extremely unique lifestyle. The desk job lifestyle has never appealed to me and ever since high school I’ve been looking into careers that will have me travelling, working outdoors or otherwise in varied environments that won’t drive me stir-crazy within weeks. Seafaring seems to be the stereotypical “see the world” vocation, and while I can’t speak to how true that is just yet, I’m very excited to go to sea in a month or two and begin pursuing that goal. My role is an Electro-Technical Officer, and this cadetship so far seems to be the perfect marriage of my passion for engineering and travel.

Thirdly, to answer a more difficult question – the challenges seafarers have overcome during COVID. The industry has naturally been on the forefront of the pandemic; seafaring vessels are remarkably prone to disease due to the tight conditions. One of the major early events in the spread of COVID-19 was the Diamond Princess, a ship operated by my employer’s sister company, which found itself quarantined in Japan for weeks after COVID spread like wildfire through its inhabitants. Similar events on other cruise ships have spelled a very difficult time for the industry and involve quick thinking and actions, with tight regulations to control any issues that arise. Along with that, the majority of the world’s goods are transported by sea, the combination of these two things means that just about the entire world has its eyes on our industry when a disease begins to spread.

On a more practical and college-applicable level, we have of course suddenly found our courses thrust online, and we’ve been unable to access certain resources useful in our education due to pure circumstances. Students and seafarers must be able to quickly adapt and respond to change as many students have to develop resilience and adjust their sails accordingly during these tough times. For those further along in their cadetships, important events have been – metaphorically speaking – lost at sea as well.

And lastly, one quite applicable to myself – outlining my ambitions for equality and diversity at sea and at College. I am bisexual, so this question is particularly important because equality and acceptance in this industry is something that has a direct impact on myself and my peers. There are certainly concerns; seafaring, much like many other vocational or practical industries, is to some extent at risk of suffering from a very stereotypically macho, masculine, heteronormative environment. Conversely, the cruise industry has long proved to be a sanctuary for queer people; in particular gay men, who were able to express themselves more openly on cruises in a relatively insulated environment even when, in the past, they may not have been able to do so around their friends and family. Consequently, the industry has a rich and diverse history; not just on sexual grounds, either. The merchant navy is unfailingly a national melting pot; with British, Dutch, Indian, Filipino and many other sailors working together on common aims. Exposure and integration of other cultures is certainly one of the perks of the job, and I believe that the ability of the merchant navy to bring together people with common purpose is something that wider society should look to emulate as we transition towards a more open and accepting world. It’s perhaps somewhat cliché to end on a quote, but in this case it’s applicable – as Mark Twain was quoted in saying:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

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