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International Day of the Seafarer

In 2010 the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations overseeing the regulation of shipping, announced that June 25th would be designated “International Day of the Seafarer”. 

This day recognises the invaluable contribution seafarers make to international trade and the world economy, often at great personal cost to themselves and their families. It provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the world’s 1.5 million seafarers for the unique and all-too-often overlooked contribution to the well-being of the general public, and the vital role that seafarers play in the world economy and, in many respects, in sustainable development, enabling ships to carry than 90% of world trade safely, efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment.

Living on an island, the Irish people have a special relationship with the sea that goes back thousands of years. The sea has inspired us and provided for us in many ways. However, as every sailor and seafarer knows, the sea can also be a dangerous place.

Young people in Ireland are also aware of the dangers posed by living and working on the sea. In 2020, a team of students from Ramsgrange Community School in New Ross, Co. Wexford, decided that they wanted to use their YSI project to help make seafaring safer for the men and women involved.

The goal of their project, ‘Safety at Sea’, was to raise awareness about the importance of Personal Locator Beacons and general safety precautions at sea. They chose this issue because their local area is full of fishing families, and at the time two lives from the local community had recently been lost at sea. 

“We want to avoid another tragic incident in our waters, and hopefully save someone’s life” the students said.

The team discovered evidence that although PLBs are given out by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, there are two deterrents against applying for one. The first of these is that, for vessels of less than 15 meters in length, a one-day long training course must be taken. For vessels greater than 190 meters in length, a training course may take upwards of 10 working days (or two weeks) to complete. The second deterrent is that, although the PLB itself is given out for free, subsequent maintenance costs are €155 per year. These two roadblocks are a driving factor in a fisherman’s reasons not to own or wear one. Another factor contributing to this problem is the fact that while a PLB’s battery life is a long life of 7 years, this means that a fisherman may assume that their PLB is functional when it may actually be out of charge.

To raise awareness of these issues, the team planned to hold a coffee morning in their school and invite TDs, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguard, the rescue helicopter crew, local fishermen and their families, and members of the local rowing club, bringing a host of seafarers and politicians together to discuss making safety measures at sea more accessible. For their efforts, they won the 2020 YSI Make Our World Safer Challenge Award.