Coronavirus Nightmare at Sea for the World’s Most Essential Workers
by Charissa Isidro
“We were out of sight and out of mind,” says Second Officer Jaisal Bhati. “Everybody forgot about us (and) everyone turned a blind eye.” Behind the scenes of the coronavirus pandemic, an invisible workforce of about one million seafarers has continued to toil on bulk carriers, oil tankers, fishing vessels, cruise ships, and more. These people have crisscrossed the world, many working seven-day weeks with no holidays or even sick days delivering medicines, grain, coal, fuel—and now vaccines. “They wanted our services but they did not want us.”
Even in normal circumstances, weathering the perilous seas with limited personnel is a tough, dangerous job. A regular cargo ship might be crewed by only 20 people, each with designated duties—a ship at sea, like a plane in the air, requires constant attention so one cannot simply “down tools” and leave it unattended without risking catastrophe. On top of their daily tasks, each seafarer has emergency responsibilities for fire, health, defense, come what may. There are no separate firemen, doctors, or policemen on board. It’s just the crew, where every worker is essential and any delay is unthinkable.