The 5thof April, a landmark date in the navigation history of India, is celebrated every year as the National Maritime Day.
In India, more than 90% of the goods of a country’s trade are moved through maritime transport. The percentage itself is enough to make an individual aware of the importance of ports and most importantly their contribution, in sustaining the growth and development of the economy on a national basis.
India, with its vast peninsula jutting a thousand kilometres into the heart of the Indian Ocean, needs to leverage its enviable maritime geography to ensure and assure the economic, material and societal wellbeing of its people. In this endeavour, the role being played by Indian merchant mariners the world over is a heroic, central, and stellar one.
The number of vessels in the Indian Shipping Register has increased from a paltry 59 in the year 1947 to an impressive 1,392 ships in 2019, with the gross tonnage rising commensurately to over 12 million GRT.
Although World Maritime Day is celebrated in the last week of September of each year, India’s National Maritime Day is the culmination of the ‘Merchant Navy Week’, which has been celebrated since 1964 to commemorate India’s entry into the international mercantile shipping community in 1919. This day is meant to recognise the contribution of seafarers and organisations and institutions working towards the promotion of India’s national maritime industry. Since 2018, several awards have been instituted by the Directorate General of Shipping which are conferred on entities or organisations for their outstanding contribution to the Indian maritime sector.
National Maritime Day 2021 India: History
Indian shipping embarked on its maiden voyage on 5th April in 1919 when India’s first merchant vessel, the SS Loyalty, owned by the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, journeyed from Mumbai (then known as ‘Bombay’) to London.
This was a time when the British were masters of the global maritime commons and British companies dominated the shipping industry. At this time, an ambitious and canny Gujrati industrialist, Mr. Walchand Hirachand, envisioned a strong Indian, domestic, shipping industry as the need of the hour. He, along with his friends, Mr. Narottam Morarjee, Mr. Kilachand Devchand, and Mr. Lallubhai Samaldas, purchased a steamer, the RMS Empress, from the Scindias of Gwalior.
The RMS Empress had first been purchased, in 1890, by the Gwalior royal family, from the Canadian Pacific Railway and was used as a hospital ship for Indian soldiers, during the First World War. The four Indians named their company the Scindia Steam Navigation Company Ltd, which came to be known as the first swadeshi shipping enterprise, aimed at creating India’s own mercantile fleet.
The RMS Empress was renamed the SS Loyalty and commenced its maiden voyage to London on 5thof April 1919. Although the company found it difficult to face the stiff competition from British companies and barely survived the ensuing fare-wars, it was instrumental in making it obvious to India’s ruling and political classes that a strong domestic shipping industry was vital to India’s interests. This remains so to this very day and is unlikely to change through the foreseeable future.
Significance of National Maritime Day in India
The day is celebrated keeping a few objectives in mind:
- Celebrating the glory of the iconic success of 1919’s shipping achievement.
- Making the current generation aware of India’s Maritime History.
- Putting on display India’s Naval resources.
- Paying respect to all the naval officers and sailors.
- Encouraging and moulding the young minds to be a part of the Maritime.