Why is Merchant Navy Day Celebrated?

merchant navy day

Merchant Navy Day is a momentous occasion to express gratitude and recognise the hard work, dedication and persistence of the seafarers because of whom the world maritime trade continues to prosper and grow.

But before we delve deeper into Merchant Navy Day and how it is celebrated, let’s understand what the merchant navy is and why it is so important.

Merchant Navy is a non-military service used to describe commercial shipping, which includes different kinds of ships, such as container ships, bulk carriers, tankers, ROROs, and cruise ships. These ships are designed and built differently to carry specific cargo.

For example, container ships are built to carry standard-size containers so they can be easily stacked on each other onboard the ship.

Importance of Merchant Navy

More than 90 per cent of goods, services, and manufactured items are transported from one part of the world to the other onboard ships. This makes commercial shipping an intrinsic part of the global economy and a key component of the supply chain.

Hence, without commercial shipping, you won’t be able to buy your favourite brand of clothes or shoes manufactured in another country or eat your favourite food since the ingredients might not be available where you live.

However, this is not limited to only goods. There are ferries, passenger vessels, and cruise ships that are convenient. If a nation has rivers and inland waterways, these vessels are a cheaper alternative than roads or railways.

Apart from inland transportation, ships also aid in environmental research, surveys and much more. Lastly, there are tugs that guide and move or tow other ships into and out of harbours or ports. They are also used in emergencies if a vessel loses control or drifts.

The Merchant Navy is quite significant, and without modern vessels transporting cargo, we wouldn’t be living in a modern, interconnected world where everything is available to us. Commercial Shipping also contributes to the global economy and the national economies of nations with vast coastlines and several ports.

Now we know how essential the Merchant Navy is; however, ships don’t operate by themselves. They are controlled by skilled seafarers who are responsible for safely transporting and loading cargo from one port to another. And this is not an easy task.

Seafarers leave their families for months and sail onboard ships. Theirs is not a 9-to-5 job, as they live onboard the vessel, and emergencies can arise anytime.

Though handsomely compensated for their work, being a seafarer takes sheer mental and physical strength, discipline and persistence.

Merchant Navy Day, celebrated on September 3 every year in the U.K., recognises the spirit of these remarkable seafarers.

Merchant Navy Day in the U.K

In honour of the brave merchant seafarers, this day is marked to remember their role in keeping the world’s maritime trade flowing smoothly so that the requirements of people across the world are fulfilled, from the food we eat to the appliances we use.

This day is for the heroes who navigate the oceans and seas so others can have a comfortable life. It is also a day to celebrate the sacrifices of the merchant navy during the World Wars and to honour the country’s maritime heritage.

In today’s world, seafarers continue to be a vital force, facing life-threatening storms at sea yet continuing unabated. Their silent, steadfast service in the face of adversity receives due recognition on this day.

From facing dangerous situations at sea to feeling lonely and missing their family or unable to see land for days or months, they endure it so everyone can live a life of comfort and fulfilment.

But have you thought why September 3 was chosen as the Merchant Navy Day?

Let’s find out.

merchant navy

Why is Merchant Navy Day Celebrated on September 3?

It was in 2000 that the UK decided to celebrate its Merchant Navy Day on September 3. You might wonder why this date was chosen.

Well, it goes back to the advent of World War II, when Merchant Navy vessels began to support the war effort by transporting necessary supplies and other equipment, facing not only the merciless seas but also the dangers of a war.

On September 3 1939, SS Athenia became the first British Ship to be sunk by a German U-boat during the Second World War. Around 117 passengers and crew died in the sinking, which was called a war crime. Among the dead, 28 were citizens of the U.S. hence Germany feared that the U.S. would join the war in support of France and the U.K., so it denied that none of its vessels had sunk the Athenia until 1946.

The merchant navy was the backbone of maritime trade during those difficult times. Though their contribution was not recognised immediately, it was appreciated years after continuous advocacy for their rights. Hence, now it is officially acknowledged.

Additionally, King George bestowed the title of Merchant Navy on British civilian vessels after their commendable service in World War I. Many other countries also adopted this title, as previously, the seafarers were referred to as Mercantile Marine or Merchant Service, although the term Merchant Navy was used informally from the 19th century onwards.

How is Merchant Navy Day Celebrated?

Raising the Red Ensign

This is a powerful symbolic gesture to respect and honour the seafarers. The Red Ensign is the emblem of the Merchant Navy and is flown on commercial ships. You can also display it at home, in the workplace, or the community.

Spreading Awareness

One can take the initiative to learn about their nation’s maritime history and be mindful of their consumption habits. They can also spread the word on social media and honour the contributions of seafarers.

Attend or Organise Events

One can also attend events or organise them. One can check their local listings for Merchant Navy Day events such as exhibitions, talks, memorial services and parades. One can also host a seafarer-themed party where the guests can dress up as a famous maritime character. This is both fun and a learning experience for kids and adults.

Extend Support to Seafarer Charities

Many charities and organisations offer financial support to former seafarers and their families who are struggling. You can donate or volunteer if possible to make a difference. If you know somebody who served in the Merchant Navy or is still a part of it, you can share their stories on social media or even express gratitude personally.

Let’s see how some other countries honour their seafarers.

U.S.A

The U.S. celebrates its National Maritime Day on May 22 each year from 1933 onwards.

90 years ago, Congress announced this day to commemorate the voyage of the American Steamship S.S. Savannah from the U.S. to England, which she completed in 29 days and became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic.

During the Second World War, over 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine served their nation, with over 6700 who gave up their lives, and hundreds ended up as war prisoners and died when enemies sank their ships.

Nonetheless, the Merchant Marine has been the foundation of maritime security and peace in the country. Maritime Day recognises one of the USA’s most important workforce, and ceremonies, celebrations, etc., are held in many regions to recognise their contributions.

Australia

September 3 is celebrated as Merchant Navy Day in Australia to honour the Bravehearts of the country. It is also in recognition of their contribution to the economic growth and development of the country.

China

Beijing has celebrated July 11 as National Maritime Day since 2005. On this day in 1405, Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty led Chinese ships on voyages as far as America, 87 years before Christopher Colombus arrived in America.

India

April 5 has been celebrated as National Maritime Day since 1964 in India. This date was chosen as it was on this day in 1919 that SS Loyalty, the first ship of Scindia Steam Navigation Company, sailed to the U.K.

The Philippines

Since 1996, September 27, or the last Friday of September, has been celebrated as National Maritime Day in the Philippines. On this day, the authorities promote and develop national maritime policies and capabilities.

European Union

European Maritime Day falls on May 20. This day highlights the crucial role of oceans and seas in the lives of coastal communities and all EU citizens regarding sustainable development and employment.

Japan

Since 1996, Japan has celebrated July 20 as Marine Day. On this day, Emperor Meiji returned from a boat trip to the nation’s northernmost island of Hokkaido in 1876.

Canada

May 26 is Canada’s Marine Day, which celebrates its maritime industry, its past, present, and future.

Conclusion

Merchant Navy Day is an occasion to celebrate, recognise, and express gratitude to the seafaring community that works despite all odds to ensure the smooth running of the world’s maritime trade and global supply chains. They are the pillars of this world and vital to the global economy, and because of their countless sacrifices, people’s lives are much easier and more comfortable.

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Disclaimer :
The information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.

In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of data or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this website.

About Author

Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.

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