TODAY is Sailor’s Day. Inaugurated in 2011 under the aegis of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), this day offers a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the contribution of seafarers without whom the flow of goods and international trade would stop.
With merchant ships carrying up to 90% of the world’s trade and a maritime industry operating at breakneck speed, it’s hard to imagine life without the involvement of seafarers. But their labor sometimes costs them dearly. themselves and their families.
Each sailor’s journey is unique, but they all face similar hurdles, with managing mental health being one of the most serious concerns.
In the past, after their ship left port, sailors were cut off from the outside world. Today, with the transfer of data possible on board and ashore regardless of the position of their vessel, crews can now stay in touch with family and friends.
In this regard, Internet access should be considered a fundamental right of seafarers as it enables them to communicate with their relatives back home. In fact, internet access on board has been proven to help improve their mental health and overall well-being.
Seafarers are involved in one of the toughest professions, so they have high hopes of being treated as key workers in the national economy and having their plight recognized by government and stakeholders.
A pressing issue in Malaysia is the delay by authorities in Sabah and Sarawak in issuing work permits to Peninsular Malaysian seafarers. These sailors, who also have to compete with foreigners for jobs, have to wait between two and three months to obtain the work permit. Previously, the waiting time was between one and two weeks and it is faster to obtain a permit to work in another country.
Seafarers see themselves as family on board and work as a friendly team throughout their contract. But with the current sentiment shown towards the Peninsular Malay sailors by the authorities in Sabah and Sarawak, a rift is opening between them which could split their unit.
Remuneration, which does not correspond to the cost of living, is another question to be settled. Sometimes seafarers are denied bank loans to secure assets such as a house.
There are suggestions from the seafarer community on how to solve their problems. One of them is to remove the tax for seafarers who are on board a ship for more than two months. Malaysia has a territorial tax system, which means that only income earned from work performed within the country and its geographical boundaries is taxed.
Other suggestions include removing the requirement for Peninsular Malaysian seafarers to obtain work permits issued by Sabah and Sarawak, controlling the influx of foreign seafarers, reviewing their remuneration to make it comparable to that of seafarers from other countries such as Brunei and Singapore, and to extend flexible bank loan arrangements for them.
For lack of attention and support, many sailors have changed careers. If this trend continues, there will be a severe shortage of qualified seafarers in Malaysia in the near future. This situation should be avoided because the maritime industry is important for the growth of the country.
Today is the day to express to all seafarers how much they mean to us and to the whole world. Their dedication and hard work has kept the international business alive and running perpetually. We cannot thank them enough for their immense contribution!
DR IZYAN MUNIRAH MOHD ZAIDEEN
Faculty of Maritime Studies
University Malaysia Terengganu
and CAPTAIN MOHD FAIZAL RAMLI
Offshore oil and gas marine specialist, sailor and alumnus of the Malaysian Maritime Academy (Alam)