Call me a grinch, a spoilsport. But I have never felt the urge to observe the Day of the Seafarer (25th of June). It’s not just the empty slogans and tributes from the very people who have commodified seamen that dampen my mood. I am dismayed by the mere fact that the annual celebrations are spearheaded by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) — not by the International Labour Organization (ILO) or the United Nations collectively.
Indeed, why not the ILO, the UN agency dealing with labour standards and promoting decent work for all women and men? Is it not the ILO that sanctified seamen’s rights through ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and similar treaties that came before? What has the IMO got to do with the rights and welfare of seamen?
The IMO’s responsibility, lest some folks forget, is the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. Why should it lead the chorus singing paeans on the Day of the Seafarer to the men and women who toil at sea? The whole thing is an anomaly. It is egregious, yet not really surprising.
IMO has tended to overreach its mission. We all saw this at the height of the Somali piracy, when IMO London, with the help of PR consultants, sought to take centre stage in the anti-piracy campaign. Were the hearts of the IMO bigwigs and bureaucrats really bleeding for those who were held captive, tortured and murdered by the pirates? I think not.
On the Day of the Seafarer, the question everyone should be asking is: what has the IMO done to make life easier, if not happier, for seamen? The IMO continues to churn out training requirements for seamen without bothering with the cost of training and the impact of mounting shipboard paperwork on ship officers. But why should it give a damn? In contrast to the ILO policy on information dissemination, IMO will not even give seamen free online access to the full text of the STCW Convention. Enough of this institutional hubris and hypocrisy. ~Barista Uno