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Simon Ward FICS: The Sea, The Sea


Where are you reading this blog? If you are fortunate, you have a view of the sea, either on holiday, or like me, from my office. If you cannot see it, look with your mind’s eye at an image of it. What do you see?

My ideal image would be from the aft deck of a ferry coming into or out of Piraeus, on my way back, or my way to, an island, with a coffee, a book and a packet of cigarettes. The voyage that resonates with me most is eastwards, towards Syros, or further, to Ikaria, or Amorgos, especially in that magical hour between the sun setting and darkness, wine-dark, as Homer would put it. The beauty is framed by the sky and horizon. It seems massive, but we can only absorb it as a surface phenomenon, shallow metres deep in our imagination.

The sea is massive: the oceans cover 71% of the surface area of the globe,  and contain 97% of the earth’s water, the rest either fresh water (less than 1%) or in glaciers or ice caps (2-3%). The average depth is about 3.7 km, or approximately the length of Syngrou Avenue in Athens, but the deepest point is 11 km down. it’s in that top layer where the majority of marine life exists, everything deeper than 200 metres is officially the deep sea.

The sea is where life on earth came from, and without the oceans we cannot live. But in the greater scheme of things they are small. Imagine the earth as a billiard ball: the oceans are the lightest film covering the surface, as they account for only 0.02% of the planet’s total mass. But in that thinnest of layers is a massive air-conditioning unit for the climate of our planet, and however massive they seem to us, this unit is very delicate and fragile.

Water, whether in solid, liquid, or gaseous form, is the root of life itself. And in these times of climate change, we who make our living from the sea should stop a while and consider how important it is for our existence.

Of course, for seafarers over the ages the oceans were feared and respected, and literature over the millennia has shown how stupid we can be when we fail to respect the strength and power of the oceans. Ancient Greek mythology had Poseidon as god of the sea, who also had the powers to create storms and earthquakes.

Without the differences of temperature of water both in the oceans and above them, and the consequent varying levels of humidity and air pressure, and the currents continually circulating the globe, we would not have the weather patterns that provide us with fresh water to sustain ourselves. At a more fundamental level, without the water of the oceans to lubricate the shifting of tectonic plates, we would not have land to live on; the world would be covered with a shallow layer of water. The oceans were Poseidon’s life blood, the source of his strength, providing the sheer power of those elemental forces under his control that made him so potent and so feared. The ancient Greeks knew then, intuitively, what we only found out around 50 years ago.

Maybe the omnipotence of the oceans is why we think that they don’t need taking care of: surely they are big enough to look after themselves. But the challenges facing the sea are huge, and the damage caused by the unprecedented release of carbon into the environment by our species has yet to be fully felt. But we cannot turn the clock back, nothing will be the same again, and much has already been lost. The solutions, whether alternative energy sources or emission targets are largely in the hands of others, and whilst we can have opinions, or protest, or post memes on social media, or join voluntary organisations in my darkest moods it just seems to me so little, and we are individually helpless and insignificant.

And even if we do stuff, like sort our rubbish for recycling, or get a bracelet, it turns out that we are either doing to salve our conscience, or worse, passing the buck down to some other more unfortunate person, or country, to deal with our shit and make their environment worse, because they need the money.

But the world is still a beautiful place, and there is much to enjoy. One person by themselves cannot change anything much but apart from buying bracelets, or posting memes, there are small things that we can do that will improve the fortunes of the sea, however small. Here’s my approach:

-         Firstly, and very simply, I don’t put stuff into the sea that doesn’t belong there. I take all of my rubbish away with me from the beach, including cigarette ends. When I’m onboard a yacht or a ship I don’t throw stuff overboard that can’t be eaten by some fish or other creature.

-         I am thinking a lot about what I eat, and where it comes from. Apart from being good for my body (and waistline), I am thinking more about taste and texture and variety. One of the things I love doing these days is exploring the less popular non-white fish at Athens central fish market (they also happen to be cheaper). I am experimenting too with curing and marinating fish, so I have a store in the fridge to go with a drink and salad in the evening. Choosing fish that come from sustainable environments (https://www.sustainablefish.org/, https://www.wwf.gr/en/sustainable-economy/fisheries) whether farmed or wild, helps this, and stops other environments being attacked, damaged or harmed. It’s the same for meat, fruit and vegetables by the way. The best part of it is, it tends to taste better too.

-         I am being thrifty. I try not to buy stuff that I can’t use again and don’t throw away stuff that I can use again.

-         I am growing things. It’s nice having some living green around you: it improves my mood, and in the case of herbs, my cooking.

And that’s about it. What good is that for the oceans you may ask?

-         Obviously cleaner seas are better seas, that don’t mess up the living things there too much, or worse kill off various parts of the food chain unnecessarily.

-         Moving away from industrial fishing, and farming, means that more diverse ecosystems can be maintained and encouraged, enabling the seas and oceans to better absorb carbon dioxide, keep producing the things at the bottom of the food chain, that maintains life on earth.

 -         Rubbish, like water, in one form or other, whether big or microscopic, solid or liquid, usually ends up in the sea. Ask Leonardo di Caprio and the Mayor of Andros. The less the better.

-         Growing things makes sure that (very little) bits of carbon dioxide get taken out of the atmosphere, taking (a very little) pressure off the oceans. If this could be scaled up of course, the more the better, but I don’t really have the time or the energy.

I would love to see no more carbon than absolutely necessary released into the atmosphere, but I would also like to see the world poverty-free too, and I suspect that these two goals are incompatible. Whether it’s agriculture, industry, or trade, or the transport systems that enable them to succeed, these things have made the lives of some of us humans immeasurably better in the days since Homer was writing. But as he pointed out in the Odyssey:

“Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.” 

That has not changed, but as he also mentioned in passing in the Iliad, even a fool learns something once it hits him. We are weak, and we are fools, but we are resourceful, and can achieve fantastic things. If we can protect and, even better, improve the fate of the oceans then we can go a go a long way in protecting our lives, and the lives of our fellow residents on this planet, whether on land, in the air or in the oceans: it is after all a beautiful place. Try and put that thought in your mind the next time you think about the sea.

Simon Ward started his career at a ship-owning company in Liverpool. He became a Ship Sale & Purchase broker, also in Liverpool, in 1993 before moving to London in 1997. In 2008 he moved to Greece to open and run HSBC Shipping Services Ltd in Piraeus. Despite moving back to London at the end of 2012, he returned to Greece in 2013 to open a new sale & purchase venture in Piraeus with Ursa Shipbrokers, reaffirming his longstanding commitment to the Greek shipping industry. 

A Member of the ICS since 1995 (and a prizewinner in the qualifying exams), he was accepted as a Fellow in 2009. He is now also heavily involved with the Institute’s education team, and advises the ETC on matters concerning Ship Sale & Purchase.

He teaches Shipping Business and Ship Sale & Purchase at the Greek Branch of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.