Your Amazon package, courtesy of a globalized corps of sailors
Less than a month after the sinking of the MV Gulf Livestock 1, who in the world mourns captain Dante Addug and his 38 fellow Filipino crew members, lost when their ship sank off the coast of Japan during Typhoon Maysak? Their families, certainly. Addug, who was 34, has left behind five children under six years of age. The staff and management of Dubai-based Gulf Navigation Holding, which operated the ship, have also been hit hard by the human cost of the tragedy.
As for the rest of the world, while details have emerged about the two Australians and two New Zealanders who were on board, we know next to nothing of the 39 Filipino sailors who lost their lives alongside them when their ship was overwhelmed on Sept. 2.
That new computer, iPhone, dinner set, drill, kettle or TV you ordered online may have arrived at your door in an Amazon box dispatched from a depot near you. But the greatest part of its journey — these days, typically from some factory in China — was on board a ship, and frequently in the care of a crew of Filipinos working far from home in a perilous environment.
Few of us who spend our lives on solid ground appreciate just how perilous that environment can be. Although we all benefit from the products of the global economy on a daily basis, we rarely give any thought to how they reach us. The world of commercial shipping, upon which the global market depends completely, is a mystery.
Yet more than 90 percent of world trade is waterborne.
Most of us neither know nor care much about what it takes to ship the stuff we take for granted. Likewise, the lives and losses of those who labor to keep the great engine of global trade running efficiently are out of sight and out of mind.
Last year, 41 large commercial vessels were lost at sea. That is certainly an improvement on the 130 lost in 2010, but such trends are highly volatile and subject to both economic and natural forces. A total of 951 ships were lost between 2010 and 2019 — a startling average of 95 every year.
Gulf Livestock 1, which was carrying almost 6,000 cattle destined for the Chinese dairy industry, sank near the end of its voyage from Napier in New Zealand to the port of Tangshan, a journey of about 17 days. A distress call was sent, but only two of the crew survived.
Encouraged by the fact that three life rafts and a lifeboat have yet to be found, families and supporters have mounted a campaign on social media to urge search and rescue efforts to continue.
On Sept. 9, the day the search for survivors was called off, Gulf Navigation Holding released a statement saying that everyone in the company was “devastated by the enormity of this tragic accident,” adding that: “All our thoughts and prayers at this time go out to the families of those who it seems have lost their loved ones.”
As for the rest of us, the least we can do the next time we take delivery of a parcel whose contents have traveled the world is pause and remember those who are daily in peril on the seas, and who at times give their lives so that we may benefit from the global trade upon which our lifestyles depend.
Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK. ©Syndication Bureau