Being thankful for seafarers

Celebrating the rescue efforts of those at sea in the pre and post Covid-19 world

By Ben Strong

A familiar question in our home is: “Hey Dad, when is the package going to get here?” As more and more of us were asked to stay home during lockdown we became increasingly dependent on shipping. The unsung heroes of this, of  course, are you the seafarers. As the manager of the United States Coast Guard’s Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel System, more commonly known as Amver, I am reminded of the huge contribution seafarers make to our everyday lives.

For those of you asking, “What’s the Amver program?”, it is a global, voluntary search and rescue
scheme, founded by the US Coast Guard in 1958, that uses commercial ships to perform search and
rescue on the world’s oceans. On average, an Amver participating ship saves one life per day.

In addition to recruiting ships into the Amver programme, it is my responsibility to recognise the efforts of seafarers who participate in this global safety network.

The US Coast Guard Amver Awards programme celebrates participation in our global safety system. A ship or crew need not rescue anyone, just be available for rescue. As English poet John Milton said, “they also serve who only stand and wait”.

There are, of course, costs to these services. Any time a commercial ship changes course or diverts
to search for an emergency beacon, a migrant at sea, a yachtsman, or another commercial ship in distress, the  ship loses money and risks your lives. There are further costs to these actions: lost port time; lost shore leave; and lost productivity. In fact, according to a paper by the Trachtenberg School
of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University, the cost to
shipping to provide search and rescue services is approximately $12,500 per hour. The fact that in spite of these costs you stand willing to undertake rescue  operations is all the more inspiring.

At the desk

The Amver office is not that much different to an office in a shipping company. It is rooted in
tradition, perhaps a bit dated, and sometimes resistant to change and technology. The recent pandemic, however, has forced us to deliberate on how we can continue to recognise the good works of seafarers. Pre-Covid-19, my colleague and I used to print, collate, co-ordinate, stuff, and hand label envelopes filled with letters, certificates and award memorabilia.

That changed in an instant. Now we prepare the certificates electronically and email them to your
fleet manager who can either print them and mail them to the ship or email them directly to the ship for printing and display.

What hasn’t changed is the importance of the Amver awards. Indeed, they have only increased in
importance during this pandemic because at their heart they celebrate seafarers, an accolade needed now more than ever.

You matter to us. You matter to the world. Nothing brings me more joy than to board a ship, meet
the crew and thank them for being available to help. Your willingness to risk life and profit makes
a huge impact on the lives of those in peril.

I look forward to the day I can see you face to face again, shake your hand and offer a small token
of my thanks and the thanks of the United States Coast Guard for helping us to ensure that people
in distress at sea have someone who is listening, someone who cares, and someone who will save

Until then, stay healthy and continue to show the world the value of the seafarer. You and your
families should be proud that you continue to bring us the goods we need to survive and to fight
this pandemic. Until we can meet again, know that I am grateful for all you do! S

Based in New York, Ben Strong is the civilian director of Amver Maritime Relations for the US Coast Guard.