TODAY, September 3, is Merchant Navy Day. The annual Merchant Navy Day service at the Merchant Navy Memorials, Tower Hill, and the Annual National Service for Seafarers, administered by charity Seafarers UK, at St Paul’s Cathedral in mid-October, are cancelled.

Early lockdown panic buying caused shortages. Supermarkets and suppliers did their best to steady the ship and soon most of us could again buy essential goods. One reason that was possible was the same reason it’s been possible for our having uninterrupted supplies of most things for most of our lives – merchant ships bring goods to our ports 24/7/365.

Some 95 per cent of UK trade by volume (75 per cent by value) comes and goes by ship. Merchant seafarers are often unsung heroes in our nation’s story, their ships bringing energy supplies and goods to our islands whatever the weather or circumstances.

Over 30,000 merchant seamen lost their lives in the Second World War (a death rate higher proportionately than in any of our armed forces), merchant ships carrying the food, fuel, armaments and troops essential to victory around the globe.

The seven seas are an unforgiving environment and, while sailors sometimes enjoy calm seas and a prosperous voyage, heavy seas, storms, hurricanes and danger are ever present – over 100 merchant seafarers died last year.

Early this year cruise ships were at the centre of another storm – Covid-19. Over 50,000 other ships – bulk carriers, general cargo, specialist and container ships, tankers, ferries and trawlers – have, however, continued to ply the seas, wearing our Red Ensign or Blue Ensign or flags of other seafaring nations.

Twenty million containers are crossing the globe right now. Of the world’s 1.6million merchant, seafarers some 300,000 are stuck at sea, unable to leave their ships, world travel restrictions having denied routine crew changes. For many seafarers life is hell right now, without them your life might be hell too. Let’s salute Merchant Seafarers – our essential workers at sea.

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER LESTER MAY, Royal Navy, and 31 others Reachview Close, London NW1