As a maritime writer, I must confess that I have, more than once, suffered from self-doubt and a gnawing sense of futility. What does it matter if I write about the rights of seafarers or not? Or about marine art and culture? Will it make a bloody difference? The questions sometimes come like arrows to pierce the soul. Yet, I have managed to continue writing (Marine Café Blog will mark its 11th anniversary this August). I draw courage and inspiration from what famous writers have said about the pain and joy of writing.
In ordinary usage, the word “siren” is defined by the Oxford English Dictiionary as “a woman who is considered to be alluring or fascinating but also dangerous in some way”. Feminists might object to the term as being sexist. However, not a few women would feel flattered if they were called “siren”. In Greek mytholody, sirens (pictured above) were creatures, half bird and half woman, whose music and singing lured unsuspecting sailors to destruction. They have since become the archetype of the woman who has the ability to bewitch and have control over men.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the European Maritime Safety Agency to suspend its inspection visits to non-EU countries supplying crews to EU-flagged vessels. Between 2005 and 2019, EMSA had racked up a total of 75 such visits… Wouldn’t it be better if the EMSA inspections were scrapped altogether? Shouldn’t each EU member state be allowed, as a matter of sovereign right, to decide whether seafarers from outside the EU are up to standard and to hire them according to their needs?
The shipping industry has a strong fetish for buzzwords. The latest to ring loud and clear is “crew change” — a slogan spawned by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent stranding at sea of thousands of seafarers. Interestingly, nowhere in ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended can one find the phrase “crew change”. Instead, MLC 2006 talks of repatriation (the word is mentioned 37 times in the main body).
Seafarers don’t expect to be treated like royalty. They just want to carry on without the encumbrances that make working at sea less than satisfying and with the respect from other people that they deserve. The following is a sequel to my earlier post, ’35 things that make like more difficult for seafarers’.
Most men are fascinated with cars. I am fascinated with seashells. Odd as it may sound, they remind me of the grandeur of cathedrals. I find the shell of the nautilus particularly interesting. Its spiral form is simple yet beautiful and elegant. Indeed, it is an architectural marvel as complex and enigmatic as the sea itself.
I recently learned a Japanese exercise from a programme shown on NHK World-Japan. It is called radio callisthenics or rajio taiso (literally, “radio gymnastics”) — so named because it was originally broadcast to music on public radio. I think it is ideal for seafarers and other maritime folks who don’t have all the time in the world to exercise.
Life is hard enough for seafarers without other people making it harder. Alas, there is no shortage of individuals, often including one’s kith and kin, who would take advantage of this group of workers. Ironically, some institutions and regulations are the very source of the exploitation and the suffering. The following is a list of things many seafarers have to put up with as they struggle to build a better future for themselves and their families.
Old sailors and old fishermen always fascinate me. The former are often referred to as “sea dogs” or lobos de mar in Spanish. Sailor or fisherman, the appellation is entirely appropriate. These men are hardy spirits who cut their teeth on boats and spent many years at sea.
Who would not want to journey to Venice, the city beloved by famour artists and ordinary tourists alike? The English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, summed up its appeal in his poem ‘Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation’: “Its temples and its palaces did seem / Like fabrics of enchantment piled to Heaven.” Alas, not everyone has the means or the opportunity to visit the place. But no worries, the following artworks and poems will transport you blissfully to beautiful Venice.
Most men and women who work at sea, I suppose, eventually get used to being away from home. But sometimes the loneliness can be excruciating as in the case of seafarers who have been stranded amid the coronavirus pandemic. In such dire situations, it is the thought of being reunited with one’s family that can serve as a fountain of hope.
The following quotes deal with the family as an institution and with married life and parenting. I trust that these words of wisdom will inspire sea workers and help them to better appreciate the value of family ties.
There is an upside to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst strewing death and misery along its path, the coronavirus has cast light on the real character of individuals and nations, of entire institutions and industries. Here are some facts about the shipping world that it has brought into sharper focus:
These are not the best times for America. The nation has been ravaged by the coronavirus and rent by racial divisions. For all this, Americans have good reason to celebrate the 4th of July in a big way. As John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote:
‘It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’ (Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776)