We owe an incredible debt to mariners whether they answer the call of the sea for money or adventure. Include in that group commercial fishermen, members of the merchant marines, ferry and tugboat operators, workers on cruise ships, and many more brave men and women who know what the demands of life on board a ship entails.
And make no mistake about it. The men and women who serve in the United States Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines and around the world are a special breed of mariners. Along with the aforementioned, they willingly put themselves in harm’s way for their country not only in war time but in times of crisis when life, limb, and property hang in the balance.
Much has been made of the dangers from pirates these past several years. With more than one sailor losing his life to these ruthless cutthroats, they are a force to be reckoned with. The luckier ones have been held ransom while loved ones a world away wait for years in dread and uncertainty.
But pirates aren’t the only peril mariners face when the last vestiges of land disappear. As stately and rugged as they are, ships today still must face the ferocity of storms at sea. How many men and women lost their lives just in this past year because of storms? Only the other day, a Russian trawler went down within minutes with fifty-four dead and fifteen missing. The death toll would have been far worse if not for nearby sailors risking their lives to save those in the frigid, choppy waters.
Old or poorly maintained ships are yet another hazard many mariners around the world must deal with. Alas, it’s a fact of life that for some companies the bottom line supersedes the lives of those who serve on their ships.
Ask any mariner working on a fishing boat or cargo ship about the dangers they face on any given voyage. It’s not a reflection on the captain or crew. It’s the nature of the job. Equipment doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. Long hours and weariness take their toll, making it easier for accidents to happen.
Recently one sailor fell to his death from the ship’s gangplank. Another nearly lost his life when his foot became entangled in a fouled chain as it pulled up the anchor. And yet another fell to his death on a cargo ship. This is not to fix blame on any one particular person or corporation. Each accident has its own peculiar set of circumstances leading up to it. The fact is working on any ship has its risks.
Add to this equation, long months away from home and loved ones, loneliness, boredom, and the rigors of living in tight quarters aboard a ship day in and day out, and you get a sense of the sacrifices exacted of all mariners. As the poet James Russell Lowell once jokingly said, “There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates. “
In the midst of all this is a little known fact about sailors traveling the globe. When they reach port, the most that many are going to see of it are the pictures they take of the pier with their cell phones. Many will be unable to disembark even for a few hours for fear they’ll jump ship. As for those able to go ashore, they are met with a strange language, stranger customs, and a geography that can be difficult if not baffling.
While setting out to sea may smack of romanticism, for most mariners it’s a job first and foremost. Some may do it for the adventure, some for the opportunity to travel, and others for the experience, but all do it for the money because back home children must eat and life’s necessities must be paid for.
We owe a heavy debt to the mariners of the world. American, Asian, African, European, Filipino, and so many more. Think about that the next time you watch a movie with a scene from the sea. Think about it next time you’re enjoying a seafood dinner. Or booking a cruise, or reading by the light of a lamp shipped from half a world away.
If you’re a mariner reading this, not only do I thank you but so do countless others who may do little more than dip their toe in the ocean as they read their summer thriller. Mariners have sacrificed much as they braved the seas for thousands of years. Here’s to the mariners of today and their future voyages. May you have fair winds and following seas.