In Fiji, and most parts of the Pacific, it’s common to have a friend with a boat or someone who simply adores sailing and relishing the open sea.
Here in the islands, the ocean envelops us, providing protection, sustenance, and nourishment.
For generations historically, the ocean has been the provider of life, food, medicine, heritage, transport and more recently economic value through fishing and other resources, tourism, transportation and water sports activities.
For mariners, the 28th of September 2023 signifies their valuable contribution and involvement in the global shipping sector with World Maritime Day serving as an acknowledgement of the pivotal role of the maritime industry in our interconnected world.
If you consider the impact of the global border shutdowns during COVID, and the ensuing halt to travel coupled with the challenges to supply chains being severely disrupted because shipping lines took so long to recover from the gridlocks they found themselves in; you can start to appreciate how much we rely on these services.
These unite or divide nations, organisations, and individuals in contemplation of maritime activities’ profound influence on entire economies and our daily existence. In 2023, World Maritime Day’s theme, “MARPOL at 50 — Our commitment goes on,” symbolizes a significant milestone for the maritime realm.
This theme is a tribute to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly referred to as MARPOL, which commemorates its 50th anniversary.
MAR- POL stands as a foundational pillar of maritime regulations, designed to prevent and mitigate pollution of the marine environment caused by ships, whether due to operational or accidental factors.
Over the last half-century, MARPOL has been a bedrock of environmental protection within the maritime industry, playing a pivotal role in minimizing the adverse impact of shipping activities on the world’s oceans and seas.
The theme underscores the world’s commitment to this vital mission – vital because our existence may depend on how well we preserve our oceans now; serving as a reminder of the enduring responsibility of the maritime community to protect the environment upon which it relies.
And so it should, with the maritime industry being the lifeblood of the global economy, facilitating the movement of over 80 percent of the world’s trade goods means it must do so with greater responsibility on keeping the oceans it uses – safer and cleaner.
While the oceans offer a reliable, efficient, and cost-effective means of transporting goods and people across borders and continents, fostering economic growth, and nurturing prosperity among nations and communities, they must also be sustainably maintained – certainly with far more ecological and environmental prudence than currently.
The maritime industry is aligned seamlessly with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These encompass essential facets such as affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9), climate action, sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources (SDGs 13 and 14), and the importance of partnerships and implementation to achieve these goals (SDG 17).
The link between World Maritime Day and Fiji’s tourism industry has been deep and intricate. Fiji’s appeal as a destination is not limited to its mainland attractions; it also encompasses over 333 picturesque islands and islets scattered across its azure waters.
Moving visitors and local communities safely to and from these remote and idyllic destinations is a huge responsibility.
Whether to the enchanting Mamanuca Islands, the remote Yasawas, or even further to the more pristine Lau Group of Islands; Fiji’s maritime industry is tasked with ensuring that visitors and locals can enjoy a wide spectrum of safe experiences.
Transfers, ferries, and cruise ships serve as indispensable connections that enable travellers to explore Fiji’s diverse island treasures. The maritime stakeholders in Fiji are expected to be more than just transport providers; they also play a crucial role as individual ambassadors for tourism.
Whether they are captains, crew members, port agents, or cruise staff — these individuals frequently serve as the initial point of contact for visitors arriving in Fiji, who return a short while later having enjoyed the best maritime-based experiences we can offer.
The significance of the maritime industry to Fiji’s tourism sector extends well beyond the transportation of tourists.
It also serves as the critical conduit for the continuous flow of essential goods, fuel, medicine and supplies that sustain the tourism infrastructure and the vast number of rural communities often only connected by maritime accessibility.
Island resorts, hotels, and restaurants depend on reliable supply chains to meet the needs of their guests for food and beverages, resort safety and comfort and the water and energy needs required to ensure things run smoothly.
The transport of these goods to Fiji’s outlying islands serves as a lifeline for both the local communities and the tourism industry. One of the primary challenges facing the maritime sector in Fiji, as well as globally, is the environmental impact of shipping, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
While shipping is essential for tourism and trade, it also contributes to global emissions, with around 3 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions originating from the shipping industry, necessitating the need for greener and more sustainable maritime practices.
Fiji has recognised its role in mitigating shipping emissions and the need to contribute more effectively to global efforts to combat climate change. A firm commitment has been made to decrease shipping emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, aligning with its international obligations as stipulated in the Paris Agreement.
This commitment has been translated into national legislation, including the enactment of the Climate Change Act in 2021.
The dedication to emission reduction mirrors a strong commitment to sustainability and the recognition to transition towards more environmentally friendly practices in pursuit of sustainable tourism and to achieve emission reduction goals in the maritime sector through actively exploring greener shipping technologies and innovations.
One strategy involves retrofitting vessels with energy-efficient technologies, such as the incorporation of energy-saving devices like Propeller Boss Cap Fins; modifications that not only bolster energy efficiency but also result in reduced fuel consumption and emissions.
Additionally, partnerships with organizations like the Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC) are fostering innovation in sustainable shipping practices.
These initiatives aim to push our efforts for a more sustainable and eco-friendly maritime sector, aligning with Fiji’s reputation as a pristine and environmentally savvy destination.
Our seafarers have been a key part of ensuring the resilience and prosperity of the tourism industry stays on track, and their role in maintaining maritime safety standards is often underappreciated.
As the renowned seafarer and explorer Christopher Columbus wisely expressed, “One can never cross the ocean without the courage to lose sight of the shore.” This sentiment is embodied by mariners and their vessels, who embody this courageous spirit, enabling the world to explore and connect and our many islands and communities to stay within reach.
It is their unwavering dedication that transforms World Maritime Day into a celebration of human achievement, resilience, and the prospects of a sustainable future.
Let us express our gratitude for their invaluable contributions and join together in a collective effort to ensure the sustainability and resilience of the maritime industry, not only in Fiji but across the globe.
• Fantasha Lockington is the CEO of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association and the views expressed are not necessarily those of The Fiji Times. To share a comment or thoughts on the article, please send an email to email@example.com. fj.