Vivid Sea Blindness In Kenya-Failure to See the Sea
By Eliazar Babu (GM Contributor)
About a month since the world celebrated the International Seafarers Day, a day designated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in recognition of the key role seafarers play in our lives. Also called the “Day of the Seafarer”, it was first celebrated in 2011. It was established following deliberations at the Conference of Parties to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watch-keeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, held in Manila, Philippines, in June 2010.
This comes at a time when the globe is reeling under the heat of the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to seafarers, countries in critical need of medical supplies and equipment are able to access them.
Having been a month since the annual commemoration, many still do not understand the critical role that the maritime industry plays in our lives hence bringing to birth the term ‘sea blindness’. According to Ellie St George-Yorke, a strategic communications professional based in the UK, sea blindness refers to ignorance of a country’s dependence on the sea for essential commodities, commerce, and security and the crucial role of seafarers in our economy.
One thing about Mombasa apart from its world-class beach resorts is that it has one of the country’s most protected facilities, the port. Secured like a fortress is the depot that is the entry point of 80 percent of Kenya’s imports and the exit point of our valuable agricultural commodities.
Brian Gicheru, shipping, and maritime enthusiast, in his recent article published in a local daily, says that we rarely question the undertakings that enable a container full of valuable commodities to reach a port. The maritime business being one of the most excluded modern endeavors does not trigger any curiosity hence missing recognition for what it is worth. It is even sadder that the entities in charge of port operations such as the Kenya Ports Authority are at the tail end of a corrupt breed.
APM-Maersk is the world’s largest container shipping company whose annual revenue is a whopping USD 38.9 billion as of 2019 almost doubling that of Netflix yet the TV sets in our homes that we use to stream Netflix shows and films were shipped by Maersk. Most Kenyan imports come by sea. Thanks to seafarers we have food on our tables, fuel in our petrol stations, and other essential consumer goods that we take for granted.
There is an alarming ignorance of our nation’s dependence on the ocean. Others are not even aware of the annual Day of the Seafarer. Perhaps this speaks of one of the cardinal rules in the maritime industry; whatever happens at sea remains at sea.
Keeping a weather eye
To salvage the situation, significant attempts are being made in some parts of the world to change the narrative. In a considerable effort to cure sea blindness, Seafarers UK, a charity group commissioned a promotional video entitled The Vanished which pictured a world in which every ship and its crew suddenly vanished in a destructive instant. Soon, food and fuel began to run out. The video was intended to shock viewers into understanding the UK’s dependence on ships and seafarers and what would ultimately occur if they disappeared. According to Nick Harvey, Communications and Campaigns Manager of Seafarers UK, initiatives have been started to raise public awareness after findings of a nationwide survey that revealed the general public’s maritime knowledge is severely lacking.
Key players in the maritime business in Kenya have struggled to enchant the public imagination without much progress. The Kenya Ports Authority has unveiled the Captain Kargo-an initiative aimed at creating awareness and explaining to the public how the port of Mombasa works. It features a short promotional animation video and a detailed explanation of vessel service processes.
So, every time you don your favorite outfit or unbox your new smartphone, remember the seafarer who worked round the clock to ship your order in time. Kenya needs to rediscover its understanding of sea power.