NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Captain Ricardo Caballero (Vega panama canal pilot for over 25 years)
By Sea and Coast | 06/06/2020
Whom did the ships' horns sound for?
A ship's horn is one of the oldest devices used by mariners to alert for  a uneven  situation or  specifically for  dangerous situation. But before ships were equipped with whistles or horns these were  already an integral part of some lighthouses and sea buoys to aid mariners during conditions of reduced visibility. Unlike light, sound is able to travel across the thickest fog and even the heaviest rain. 
For this reason mariners adopted  a dominated echo through sound , like as  I  mentioned above, to alert for a specific condition, related to visibility or to make clear what his/her intentions are before  close quarters situation (risk of collision) occurs, mainly during poor visibility. Rule 35 of the International Regulations for preventing collisions at sea (COLREGs) prescribe the sound signals given by ships in  vicinity of restricted visibility. 
However, the ship's whistle is sometimes used unofficially to mark a specific event, like commemorating particular date or event. Here, in  Panama Canal, if the Captain of the ship allows it, we blow the whistle during someone's last day of work before retiring. (By the way, a non working whistle is considered a deficiency bad enough for a ship to be denied transit.)
But the reason why the sound of ships' horns were heard across most bays and port facilities around the  world in past (1stMay)was a unique one. Some might think the horns were blown to celebrate International labor's day. In a sense, it was. But the real reason behind pushing the buttons or pulling the levers that activated the horns was one with a deeper meaning. After all there isn't much to celebrate these days. Especially for workers who have lost their jobs and are now left without any mean to support their families. In the case of seafarers the situation isn't less worse. Many saw how their contracts vanished in just a couple of days as ship owners were forced to lay part of their fleet off. A ship with no cargo is barely better than a wreck. This is what happened to cruises. Those who  want to save there jobs found themselves stranded aboard  as airports across the globe shut down making crew changes impossible. They are still there. Aboard, even though their terms have been expired. No one knows  is guaranteed when will all of them be relieved. 
In spite of that, they continue to fulfill their duties and  the world has  just come up  to realize how crucial their work meant  Men and women from different nationalities, mainly from the so called third world, are making things easier for everybody on land, amidst a major crisis, by keeping the supply chain moving . By making sure, that the shipping industry, very often the subject for rampant criticism, keeps trade afloat, and keeps, again, the supply of goods alive. 
Stranded seafarers are tired, both physical and psychologically. They are not angry, I can guarantee you that. They are most likely frustrated and happy at the same time because, besides being paid for a job, seafarers love to serve. 
Seafarers are special person who know what patience means, they know what is it like going through a storm, they know the rules and also know the price to pay for breaking them. They are honest people, because while in the middle of the ocean you can't be otherwise. There is no one to fool but themselves.   
Very much like other workers, say for example, in the field of health, they won't rest if duty calls.  Similar to nurses, doctors, and hospital personnel who have found themselves battling a war they have yet to understand, seafarers are also battling the same war, only at a different frontline. It is the same war, being fought in many fronts, with different levels of risks, but still a war that requires the best from all of us. 
Rest assure that, that is exactly what seafarers do, give the best out of themselves, whether in times of peace or times of war.
The horns were blown as a reminder to the world that seafarers are out there, doing what they know best.  Never before in the very recent history the world knew enough about them to acknowledge their importance.
 People watch the ships coming and leaving the bay as if they were  a normal feature of the landscape, looming above and disappearing under the horizon. They pull out their cameras and take a selfie with the ship on the background. They don't know how the ship made it there, and they don't know that the clothes they are wearing, the car they drive, the gas it burns, and even the food they eat, most likely came on a ship. A ship manned by people, by seafarers.
But it is not only seafarers' contribution to humanity that has come up to the surface amidst CODVI-19. We are now discovering what "warm water" is. The relevance of those who pick our trash and keep our cities clean, of those who deliver our meals, drive us home, and all of those who in the past were underappreciated by people as if they were invisible. Meaningless jobs, some used to think. For them were also the ship's horns blown the first of May. 
There are no meaningless jobs. We need them all. We also need good and honest businessmen, good and honest leaders, scientists, artists, we all need to pull in the same direction.
The coronavirus has locked us down in most countries. Authorities are classifying some workers as being "essential". And maybe the are right, given the circumstances. However I have learned that there are not "non essential" workers or jobs. My experience aboard ships taught how much  essential each member of the crew . From the Captain to the boy in the mess room who serves the meals and keeps the officers' cabins clean and tidy.  From the Chief Engineer to the oiler, who cover all their  stains as a prove of his dedication. A Pilot wouldn't be able to safely navigate a ship into port if it wasn't for the helmsman. And how about tying up the ship? 
 No question , that we are living difficult and tough times . But we are also living a moment that we should not let slip by. It is like nature is giving humans a golden opportunity to rethink and redirect our course. To be more appreciative of what those "invisible" people do for us. An opportunity to upgrade ourselves and stop thinking that the most important goal of our lives is only profit. 
Let's not forget that, like the stranded seafarers, we are all  also stranded in this planet, sailing within a space of uncertainty. And the best way to get make through is by doing what seafarers do, give our best, our very, honest, best. Honest best.
"You may say I'm a dreamer" sang John Lennon, "but I am not the only one", the lyrics goes on. And  I know that many of you out there who will agree. And I hope that the sound of the ship's horns remain lingering in our  ears, to remind us that, out there in the middle of the ocean, some people are working for your well being too.
# Sea And Coast Magazine