Art and thoughts of abandoned crews

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) database of abandoned crews makes for some interesting reading. However, it paints a rather incomplete picture. What hardships and anguish do mariners suffer when they are left by shipowners to fend for themselves, unpaid and often without provisions? I hope the following works of art, together with my ruminations on the subject, will give readers of Marine Café Blog some idea.


Clock with Blue Wing — oil on canvas, 1949; by Marc Chagall, Russian-French artist (1887–1985)

Time does not fly for abandoned crews. It has no wings unlike Marc Chagall’s clock. Waiting for word on when they will receive their salaries can seem like eternity. Weeks and months pass by before the men can get their money, if ever, and flown to their home countries.


Dorigen of Bretagne longing for the safe return of her husband — gouache, 1871; by Edward Burne-Jones, British artist (1833–1898)

It is not only seamen abandoned by their employers but also their families who wait and hope. The agony of waiting and hoping is powerfully depicted in Burne-Jones’ painting. In some cases, the stranded seamen finally get paid and are repatriated. But who will ever pay for all the human suffering?


Hungry Children from Vienna — oil on canvas, circa 1919; by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, Norwegian painter (1880–1922)

Abandoned crews often face hunger as shown in the eyes of these children painted by Johannessen. They cannot just leave their ship. Since the law on maritime liens gives first priority to crew claims, the men have to stay on board. It is their only leverage. But doing so sometimes means waiting until they run low on provisions.


The Good Samaritan — oil on canvas, 1850; by George Frederic Watts, English painter (1817–1904)

In many cases, abandoned crews would starve if not for the help extended by the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation), its local affiliate unions and various maritime charities. These good samaritans are beacons in a shipping industry benighted by lack of genuine empathy toward seamen and by greed.


Seashells — oil on canvas, 1874; by Albert Joseph Moore, English painter (1841–1893)

This painting of a woman walking on a beach strewn with seashells is symbolic of the fate of abandoned crews. In a sense, these hapless mariners are like seashells — stranded in no man’s land, ignored and even forgotten by the shipping community and the maritime press. The only difference is that Time has stopped for dead seashells whilst it keeps ticking for living mariners. ~Barista Uno

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Related article: Abandoned crews: all’s well that ends well?

2 comments

  • Andrew Craig-Bennett

    Very good piece.

    Last week I sat in on a couple of lectures at Cambridge Academy of Transport given by two friends of mine, on the subject of how Banks should proceed when a shipowner gets into financial difficulties.

    They both praised the ITF and the Missions to Seafarers, and both made the point that in general the Bank should see the crew paid and repatriated early, not out of the milk of human kindness but because the crew’s claims for wages rank ahead of most other claims at law.

    However, they both made the point that the officers and crew tend to remain loyal to the owners and managers who have let them down so badly, and will usually try to help the owners managers and manning agents who are cheating them.