The International Memorial to Seafarers

A striking memorial sculpture on the Albert Embankment.

It’s an almost surreal experience walking or driving past riverside offices along the Thames towards Lambeth Bridge from the south, when the bows of a ship emerge suddenly from an office building: a ten tonne, seven metre high bronze vessel, with a seafarer on the prow. Appropriately sited, this monumental sculpture, the Seafarers’ Memorial, stands outside the headquarters of The International Maritime Organization, the only branch of the United Nations to have its main offices in London.

The Seafarers’ Memorial by Michael Sandle

The sculpture, dedicated to seafarers all over the world was commissioned by the International Maritime Organization to mark their 50th anniversary. The aim was to highlight “the pivotal role seafaring plays in world trade […] and to serve as a memorial to all seafarers who have been lost at sea.” Distinguished sculptor Michael Sandle created the winning design featuring a cargo ship. Quoted in an article on the IMO website, he explained “I have chosen a ship because it signals immediately and unmistakably what the Organization is about.” The work was unveiled on September 27, 2001.

The International Maritime Organisation headquarters on the Albert Embankment of the Thames, close to Lambeth Bridge

The finance for the memorial came from a Trust Fund established to mark the 50th anniversary of the IMO, and was one of several projects running at the time. The International Transport Worker’s Federation was a major contributor and their General Secretary, David Cockcroft said that he welcomed the memorial and hoped it would remind people “of the hazards faced daily by the world’s seafarers.”

Plaque on side of the sculpture marking the names of the foundry, Morris Singer Ltd. and the sculpter, Michael Sandle
View from side
Seafarer in position, ready to throw a line

In his submission to the IMO Committee responsible for choosing the winning design for the memorial, Michael Sandle wrote “The crew member, the ‘seafarer’ standing on the prow, about to throw a line, is dressed as a contemporary marine operative because there are ships like this still in service.”

Plaque on side of the sculpture marking the date of it’s unveiling on September 27, 2001 in Arabic, Chinese and English

Present at the unveiling ceremony, among the many dignitaries, including John Prescott the then UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, was the International Maritime Organization’s Secretary-General, William O’Neil, who as he unveiled the sculpture, summed up its significance saying, “The ship has a timeless air and the figure – rugged, reliable, and dependable – embodies all the qualities that have been demanded of seafarers throughout history.”
IMO’s Mission Statement
“The mission of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a United Nations specialized agency is to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping through cooperation. This will be accomplished by adopting the highest practicable standards of maritime safety and security, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of pollution from ships, as well as through consideration of the related legal matters and effective implementation of IMO’s instruments with a view to their universal and uniform application.”

Sources and Further Information
Article in Church Times by Nicholas Cranfield, July, 2016.
International Maritime Organization and Brief History
In ‘Know Your London’ by Adrian Proctor: The Seafarers’ Memorial Figurative Public Sculpture, International Seafarers Memorial
Unveiling of the sculpture in Yachting and Boating World