Merchant seamen recognised

00:58, Apr 11 2014

The perilous work of New Zealand's merchant ships and their crews in World War I is commemorated in an interpretative panel to be officially revealed on Nelson's Wakefield Quay this weekend.

Mayor Rachel Reese will unveil the panel at 1pm on Sunday as part of Heritage Week. It is being installed on the Sunderland Pier, the site of the annual blessing of the fleet ceremony.

The Red Ensign, the official flag of the Merchant Navy, known as the "Red Duster" will be displayed and members of the Nelson branch of the Merchant Navy Association will be present.

Association member Ben Gibbs said that in 1914 about 81 per cent of New Zealand's exports went to the United Kingdom and 56 per cent of imports came from there.

"This country's dependence on sea trade and close economic and family ties to the ‘Old Country' meant that our merchant ships and seafarers played an essential role in the war effort, conveying troops, food and other vital materials to Britain, as well as providing hospital ships and minesweepers."

He said when war broke out some Nelson seafarers travelled to Britain to join the Royal Navy, with others serving on "home boats" that linked New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and others working on local ships commandeered for war work.

All seafarers and the public are invited to attend the unveiling, which follows a talk on waka voyaging at the nearby Boathouse, with the double-hulled waka Haunui moored nearby. The navy offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington will also be in port.

It is only in recent years that the courage, contribution and sacrifice of merchant navy crews in both world wars has been recognised, with the Government establishing Merchant Navy Day, September 3, in 2010. Since then the association's Nelson branch has commemorated it each year at the war memorial in Anzac Park.