SPEECH FROM THE OPPOSITION LEADER HONORABLE JEREMIAH MANELE, ON THE OCCASION OF THE SEAFARERS ANNUAL SEA SUNDAY CELEBRATIONS AND SERVICE
The President of the Mission to Seafarers, The Most Rt. Reverend Arch Bishop George Takeli, and Madam Takeli,
The Deputy Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Maelanga,
Senior Government Officials,
Chaplain of the Seafarer’s mission Fr Hillary Anisi,
Other Church dignitaries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am humbled to be given the opportunity to be part of this special occasion today. In fact, it should be an occasion for all of us to appreciate the services of our seafarers as it also coincides with the International Day of the Seafarers which falls on the 25th June 2017 (last week Sunday).
As we all know, 25th June was made significant in 2010, after the International Maritime Organization (IMO), decided to designate this particular date as the International Day of the Seafarer, as a way to recognize that almost everything that we use in our daily lives has been directly or indirectly affected by sea transport.
The purpose of the day is also to give thanks to seafarers for their contribution to respective economies and the civil society; and for the risks and personal costs seafarers bear while on their jobs.
And like many countries, this should also be a day our Government and the people of this country should recognize and acknowledge the services of our seafarers towards our economy, our people and our families.
Therefore, on this important day, I would also like to thank and acknowledge the services our seafarers have contributed to our country on behalf of me and my good office.
Ladies and gentlemen, this year 2017, IMO have come up with the theme "Seafarers Matter" to mark this important occasion. This year’s theme itself has emphasized the need for us to recognize and appreciate the importance of the role seafarers play in ensuring the safety of our people at sea. For that, I personally would also like to convey my sincere gratitude to the men and women serving our islands onboard their respective ships and vessels.
ACKNOWLEDGING OUR SEAFARERS
For the past 100 of years, our people have not only depended on sea for food but most importantly as an oceanic space for sending goods through sea ways. From the clothes people wear to the food they eat, almost everything today is brought to us through ships. The shipping industry, also termed as the invisible industry by many, is crucial to the existence of our economy, yet very few people have the slightest idea of what happens at the high seas. It is an industry which is secretive, risky and fascinating at the same time.
And for us as a nation, we are made up of hundreds islands and that sea transportation will remain an integral part of our means of traveling. Inevitably, seafarers work is equally important in as far as our safety and wellbeing at sea is concerned. It is an undeniable fact that our lives in the sea depend on our seafarers. Whether you’re traveling on a vessel to Temotu Province in the East or to the Shortlands in the West, our safety depend on the seafarers.
As vital as the industry is to this country and our people, equally important is the work of the brave seafarers who perform one of the toughest jobs by running those ships through the roughest seas and riskiest areas. Seafarers are one of those neglected professions, who have often been overlooked not only by international organizations but also by their own countries; and Solomon Islands is no exception.
Beyond their smart uniforms and fancy travel schedules, they live a tough lifestyle and hardships they endured at sea just to make sure the world and its people continue to enjoy their life on shore.
And I understand that, one of the biggest difficulties seafarers face in their life (not out of choice) is staying away from their loved ones while they carry out their duties at sea. Missing your children’s birthdays, family events or a brother’s wedding is the price they pay to provide service to our people. There are many seafarers who have missed every single birthday celebration of their kids. Some haven’t been able to attend funerals of their loved ones. It is a tough choice they make to earn a livelihood for their families, but the pain of going away from the family doesn’t deter them from performing their duties; and for that I wish to thank all seafarers for your services even at the cost of your own happiness.
CHALLENGES FACED BY OUR MARITIME
Ladies and gentlemen, despite all these hardships and challenges, successive Governments have turned a blind eye on our seafarers. And of course, one of the imminent challenges is the lack of adequate budgetary support to enable the work of our Maritime monitoring and our Search and Rescue team for that matter.
On that note, I wish to acknowledge the Prime Minister’s response to the Opposition Group’s call, that his Government will include provisions in the 2018 budget for the Search and Rescue Department. Whilst I acknowledge this, as leader of the alternative government I will make sure he remains committed to his word.
But the sad truth is, and I am fully aware that our hardworking search and rescue team have been handicapped for the past years and as a result they cannot carry out their mandated responsibilities resourcefully especially the boat tragedies at sea. That is why our maritime and search and rescue team needs to be fully resourced to avoid incidences like the recent one in Marau where there were reportedly no resources and funds to facilitate immediate rescue efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen, this latest incident has prompted my Office to also urge the Government through the appropriate ministries to create a regulation for our local boat owners. In this case, boat owners or operators can only own and operate a boat when he or she has gone through sea survival and navigational techniques and his/her boat must be fully equipped meeting maritime standards.
The law should be particularly similar to our vehicle licensing drivers and that boat operators can only be granted license to operate if they meet all necessary requirements, as in having boats equipped with life jackets, GPS and other safety equipment’s. I believe these recommendations could come a long way in helping our maritime authorities and our local boat owners and most importantly the safety of boat travelers.
Moreover, particular attention should also be given to the seasonal seafarers as well. I am referring to the island crews whose engagements depend on the demand for loading and offloading passengers and cargoes. Government through SINU should develop a basic training program for these island crews so that they are equipped with basic knowledge on seafaring. Their training is important to maintain the quality of work output expected of seafarers.
Finally, a robust administrative mechanism must also be in place to provide an efficient way of giving recognition to those who completed their upskill training. I learned that some seafarers who completed their training at the school of Marine at the Solomon Islands National University are not receiving the remunerations according to their qualifications. Therefore I’d like to highlight the need to restructure the administration set up to provide for a quicker way of incentivizing seafarers upon completion of their formal training.
Ladies and gentlemen, in concluding I would like to say this. It is time that government needs to review the condition of service of the seafarers in consultation and dialogue with shipping agents and operators. Besides, the importance of their duty, other factors also influence the need to review the conditions of service of seafarers. The high cost of living and the increasing demand for sea transportation are important considerations as well; to justify the need to relook at seafarers’ condition of service. That said, the government must give recognition to the men and women serving our nation in our waters. Once again, thank you to our seafarers and also their families and children that have sacrificed the availability of their fathers and mothers to provide service to our country. Before I resume my seat, I want to leave with you a word of encouragement from the book of Psalms 107 verses 23-24 which reads ‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; they see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep’. I hope this short encouragement will inspire you seafarers that despite the hardships, challenges and loneliness encountered at sea; our good Lord has particularly assured you of his comfort that you are also blessed to witness God’s great wonders each day.
Once again let us pay tribute and salute our Seafarers and their families as we celebrate this day.
Thank you and May God bless our Seafarers.