I typed the message and put the phone in silent mode. This is the last place I want to be. Yet I’m here today, for the sake of the person I call my friend. I’m here for Amit, who was my junior in the same ship we were sailing, for the last seven months.
We are the seafarers, working on merchant ships. We carry a variety of goods from one country to another. Shipping accounts for eighty percent of world trade, which means almost 11 billion tons of goods are transported each year by ships. From the food you eat to the laptop you use, or the car you drive, to the fuel you utilise, we carry everything. Can you imagine what the world would be like without us? Someone had rightly said, that “without seafarers, half the world would starve and the other half would freeze.”
Yet over the years, we have heard different stories about us, all half-cooked stories that are far away from reality. People think we enjoy a lavish life on the ship. The truth is far from it. We work in shifts, around the clock and sometimes we don’t even get to sleep for a stretch of thirty-six hours or more when we reach the port. The safety of the ship, the crew and the cargo is of utmost importance to us and we go to any extent to deliver it. Even in adverse situations we are expected to give our hundred percent and with zero errors. Because even one percent of human error can lead to huge losses, something which we cannot fathom. Although we are not soldiers, yet we have our own battles on the seas. Battles with the weather, the storms, the pirates, the fires, engine failures and whatnot.
We leave our families behind. Our heart longs to be with them on important occasions. We almost miss seeing our children grow. And worst, sometimes we are unable to be there when we lose our dear ones.
As the world was hit by the pandemic, we were hit more badly. The challenges were many, yet we kept the spirits high. We were exposed to the virus whenever our ship reached any port. The countries closed their borders, which meant that there was no way we could reach home after our contract got over. Some of us have sailed for more than nine months. Our tired bodies and souls never gave up, because we knew if we stopped, the world would stop breathing.
Are we then any less than the soldiers who guard the borders? Why is it that nobody knows about us, or shows no interest to know who we actually are? Why were no movies ever made on us, and whatever was made showed us only in a shoddy light?
As I disembark the car, outside my friend’s house, my heart becomes heavy. I remember Amit telling me about his five-year-old daughter, who had asked her Papa to bring her a beautiful doll, something which he could never get because of this pandemic. Amit is not here with me today. He is in a faraway land, very far from all of us. The virus took him away like it took many more like him. I lost a dear friend, who had worked till the very end to ensure that the supply chain never stopped.
I am here to give the news to his family, and to hand over his belongings to them. I think of his daughter. Will she understand why her Papa didn’t come back, or will she be disappointed with him for not bringing her the doll she so desired? I think of his wife, who must have waited longingly for the day she would meet her better half again. What will be her reaction when she comes to know that she will never see him again? I think of his parents. Did they ever imagine, when they were saying goodbye to their son, that it would be their final goodbye? I don’t have answers to my questions. I only wish it was not me, but Amit standing at the place I’m standing today.
Being the wife of a seafarer myself, I have witnessed their lives on the ship from close quarters, when I had accompanied him on a few voyages. My husband has given twenty years of his life to this profession and quit sailing only recently after becoming the Captain. The challenges they face are many, and unlike anything, we can imagine. In these unprecedented times, the seafarers have gone out of their ways to keep the supply chain running. They have risked their lives, worked relentlessly in adverse situations, just to make sure that they delivered the cargo on time. And while they were at the sea, their families faced their own battles against this virus, sometimes without any help from anyone. For me, these men are no less than the warriors and I salute them for the wonderful job they are doing.