This commentary on National Maritime Day (May 22) was written by Buddy Custard, president and CEO of the Alaska Chadux Network. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

By Buddy Custard

Imagine spending 16 weeks on board an oceangoing vessel during a scheduled deployment, living in cramped living quarters, working long days, and then suddenly not knowing when you’ll be able to disembark to see your family and friends.

For many seafarers and mariners, that was the frightening reality at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The global shipping industry has been significantly disrupted as travel restrictions and safety protocols designed to protect citizens also prevented ship crews from taking shore leave or changing over. Many of these folks spent weeks or months beyond the end of their contract on board commercial shipping vessels worldwide. 

In celebration of the US National Maritime Day, we want to thank all maritime personnel on vessels and in ports who work hard day in and day out, to provide us with the goods we all need, supporting the US economy. #NationalMaritimeDay #Maritime

— World Shipping Council (@WSC_shipping) May 20, 2021

Even now, a humanitarian and economic crisis is boiling just below the surface, with an estimated 200,000 mariners still stranded at sea.

Throughout the pandemic, these men and women have continued to work, becoming the invisible essential workers who have literally kept our global economy afloat. 

In the U.S., 90% of  imports and exports are transported by ships. Despite initial and ongoing disruptions, international shipping continues to keep needed fuel arriving at our communities, food on the shelves of our grocery stores and essential goods like PPE coming to support the other critical front-line workers. 

The #NationalMaritimeDay theme is America’s Maritime Workforce: Connecting the Nation and the World. We’re excited to partner with Memorial, Dole, & the International Seamen Center to offer COVID vaccines to sailors, creating a safer environment for our workforce.

— Port of Gulfport (@PortofGulfport) May 18, 2021

Shipping companies and regulatory authorities have allowed for additional flexibility during these unprecedented times. Still, the seafarers who load and unload cargo and steer these massive vessels have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s change.

This is especially true here in Alaska. Thousands of tons of goods made their way through the Port of Alaska in Anchorage and were distributed throughout the state. Throughout the pandemic, ships and barges continued to arrive on time, allowing the remote communities of Alaska to sustain in an uncertain global crisis.

We celebrate #NationalMaritimeDay2021 all week in the PoB. May 22nd is NMD. Today, 3 U.S.-flag and registered ro/ro vessels are here – @ARCships Endurance and Honor and @WalWil_ASA Liberty. We honor all the men and women of the United States Merchant Marine! #Open4BizMD

— Port of Baltimore (@portofbalt) May 18, 2021

Saturday’s U.S. Maritime Day was established in 1933 to commemorate the first trans-Atlantic voyage successfully made via steamship. While maritime transportation has changed drastically since then, what hasn’t changed is the dedication and tenacity of those who transit our waters. 

So, when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store this weekend, spare a thought for those seafarers who have been and are still working hard to keep those products in your basket available for purchase. If you know a mariner or a family member of one, thank them for their sacrifice. 

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve come together to recognize the unsung heroes and essential workers across the global supply chain. Let’s not forget those at sea who are key to sustaining our economy and delivering essential supplies to our communities. 

Buddy Custard is the president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Chadux Network. He possesses extensive knowledge and expertise working maritime operations from both the public and private sectors, including serving with the U.S. Coast Guard for over 30 years, attaining the rank of captain, and as a senior manager for an oil exploration and production company operating in the U.S. Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.