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Celebrate Cayman: Honouring Cayman seamen

What follows is part of an address given by Sir Vassel Johnson on 11 September, 2001, at a memorial service for deceased Cayman seamen, as shared by Captain Owen Farrington, one of the few last surviving members of government who was serving in 1958, 60 years ago since Cayman’s Coat of Arms came into being.

I have been requested by the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association to present tonight a tribute to all deceased seamen of the Cayman Islands. I have great pleasure in doing so as such tribute should remind us of seamen’s active days when they built a substantial part of the infrastructure that assisted the continued growth of Cayman’s development. In presenting this tribute or testimonial to our dearly deceased seamen, we would like for it to include our gratitude and respect built in a wall of trust and clothed in kindly thoughts.

I also want to pay special tribute to all present and passed seamen for their support in building Cayman into what it has become in the world of offshore finance. Of course seamen may not have formulated the main thrust in the building of the financial industry of these islands following the ending of the seamen’s economy in the mid 1960s, but certainly seamen have held the fort with honour, respect and control. Eventually the professional financial forces came into being and took the lead in building Cayman as we see it today.

I will also say of our deceased seamen, I am sure they have died in the faith given to them by their heavenly Father for He alone can help all to bear what comes of joy and sorrow.

On behalf of those attending this memorial service tonight to honour their deceased seamen, and you who may be in one way or another related to many of them, I pray God’s richest blessings upon you.

AND NOW I WILL PAY TRIBUTE TO THE PORTION OF CONTRIBUTION THAT SEAMEN HAVE MADE TO CAYMAN’S DEVELOPMENT.

The income of Cayman during and after World War II steadily improved due to shipping and the risk of war. Men engaged abroad during the war also earned much higher wages. Many of them returning home from overseas services, and those who served at home, had to find new jobs after the war, for they could not live for any length of time on their wartime savings. Traditionally, working on ships at sea was the main source of livelihood for Cayman’s men and so they began moving out to sea again in search of jobs in the merchant marine. In fact Cayman’s seamen had for a long time held an excellent reputation for their seamanship and so they had little problem obtaining a job at sea once they could get to it.

In the meantime, Owen Roberts International Airport was built and a small air service established. One travelling to the United States, the main job area, would need to obtain an immigration visa from the American embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, or elsewhere outside the Cayman Islands. However, very few seamen going in search of jobs in the United States merchant marine had a good case to apply for a visa. Most of them therefore just ‘signed on’ to the crew lists of boats plying between Cayman and American ports. If during the limited time in US ports a job was not found, then the job seekers would return home.

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