Shoresplaining: the concept of shoreside professionals discussing the challenges and experiences of a seafarer, often in a faintly - albeit unintentionally - patronising manner, and crowding them out of the conversation.
Today, on International Day of the Seafarer, the shipping industry turns its gaze towards the backbone of its workforce – the seafarer – in celebration and full recognition of each individual’s hard work, dedication and resilience. As those of us in the industry are only too aware, ninety per cent of world trade is carried out at sea, and without seafarers none of this would be possible. The Day of the Seafarer is about honouring these truly remarkable people and standing together in solidarity, showing them that we’re listening and that we care.
But behind the thank you’s and well-wishing there’s a battle to be won.
It’s no secret that seafarers still work in some of the most dangerous conditions on the planet. Some issues, like piracy, are more apparent - sometimes gaining world-wide media attention. Others, like mental ill health and loneliness, are less visible and often go unseen and unchallenged.
Understanding the issues seafarers face is essential to improving the health of the industry – not only in terms of crew welfare, but also for staff recruitment and retention. After all, an industry’s greatest strength is its workers. There’s no two ways about it: crew welfare should be the highest priority at all times.
When the International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to designate June 25th as the International Day of the Seafarer, one of its main goals was to generate mass awareness of these issues and raise the profile of seafarers on a world-wide scale.
While measuring awareness can be tricky, a quick glimpse at the official Day of the Seafarer Twitter hashtag, #DayOfTheSeafarer, reveals a bounty of posts from people all over the world. Many of whom simply wish to show their gratitude, while others have chosen to highlight a particular issue such as mental health (this year’s official theme). All in all, there are already hundreds of posts currently doing the rounds on social media, all of them doing their part in creating greater awareness.
Mission accomplished? Not quite.
A closer look at ongoing conversations on social media expose a lack of representation from the most significant contributor to the debate: the seafarer. It seems that the seafarer is often drowned out by the louder voices of shoreside organisations and the media.
Encouraging dialogue among shoreside professionals and non-seafarers is no bad thing; it offers perspective and allows us to create a framework for improvement that companies can measure themselves against. What’s more it’s almost certainly done with the best of intentions, from people that feel passionately about supporting seafarer causes and promoting their interests. Many shoreside workers are former seafarers themselves and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the debate. However, at the same time we need to ensure that we’re truly incorporating - as well as representing - the views of the seafarers and not crowding them out of the conversation.
Greater participation in the media and at industry conferences could go a long way to creating an authentic image of what life at sea is really like. This, in turn, could be used to leverage a greater understanding of key issues currently facing seafarers, and flag up future challenges.
As shore-based members of the shipping industry, we need to discourage shoresplaining – that is, shoreside professionals speaking on behalf of seafarers to the exclusion of their voice - and create a platform where seafarers can stand up and be heard. After all, surely the greatest advocate for seafarers is, and always will be, the seafarers themselves.
So, on this Day of the Seafarer, let’s redefine the debate and encourage seafarers to share their experiences and opinions. Let the dawn of seasplaining commence.