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Unions call on nations to invest in maritime professionals to ensure future security

26 June 2024

Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson has called for western nations to reenergise their maritime industries, and prioritise the safety of seafarers and seaborne trade, in a speech to delegates at the 90th Convention of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (IOMMP), a Nautilus Federation union.

Speaking on 25 June, the international Day of the Seafarer, Mr Dickinson addressed the theme of the Day – safer maritime workplaces – by pointing out that safety tips are not enough to ensure maritime professionals do not come to harm in an increasingly unstable world.

'Do we think that all the personal safety tips in the world will prevent another drone attack from Houthi rebels?' Mr Dickinson said. 'Should we not be thinking how we can avoid putting seafarers in danger just for going about their jobs?

'The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is calling on governments to step up and coordinate their efforts to protect seafarers sailing in or through the Red Sea. Shipping companies must demonstrate their commitment to their seafarers by diverting their ships. Flag states must instruct companies to divert their ships.'

Turning to the future, Mr Dickinson explained that countries would need to invest in building up their domestic maritime industries – and providing appealing jobs for maritime professionals – if they are to ensure their security in the coming decades.

'After 14 years of austerity [in the UK], the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a shadow of its former glory, with a recruitment and retention crisis driven by a real-terms pay cut of 30%. Nautilus members have spoken; and they have had enough. Today the UK lies exposed, the Royal Navy is beached. I hope you will join with me and send a message of solidarity and support to Nautilus members as they take the reluctant but necessary steps to get the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to act decisively and address their genuine and long running grievances,' he said.

'There is no national defence, or deployment capability, without the men and women and the ships of the mercantile marine. Reliance on foreign shipping is strategic suicide. Our nations’ seafarers are in decline, with an ageing population, and recruitment and retention is in crisis globally, exacerbated by the treatment of seafarers and shipping during the Covid pandemic.

'We are sleepwalking into chaos and handing a massive advantage to those who have a different view of the world and develop their military and naval power accordingly. The world is looking like a very dangerous place.

Mr Dickinson said that, as a defensive alliance, NATO could have a key role to play, not only by protecting vessels at sea but also by taking up a new role in promoting domestic shipping among member states to ensure collective security. 

'We should call on NATO in its 75th year to lead a transformation in shipping, to support its core task of defending those who have signed up to the Alliance. To reduce our exposure to foreign shipping, to generate investment in maritime skills, grow our national fleets and reenergise our shipbuilding industries.'