Seashell Series 2020

Original Photos by Barista Uno

Fire and fury: The varied faces of Blackbeard the Pirate

Fire and fury: The varied faces of Blackbeard the Pirate

What did Blackbeard, one of history’s most famous pirates, look like in real life? I believe we will never know for sure. Blackbeard, byname of Edward Teach (or Thatch), lived from around 1680 to 1718 — long before the advent of photography. He is typically shown sporting a luxuriant beard (hence the nickname), but that does not really say much about his true countenance.

Coronavirus conundrum: Islands in a ‘globalised’ world

Coronavirus conundrum: Islands in a ‘globalised’ world

It is not only the fragility of life that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted. It is also the fragility of the thing called “globalisation“. Borders have been sealed off. Nations have barred the entry of ships and planes. The flow of tourists and migrants is put on hold. Suddenly, the global village Canadian futurist Herbert Marshall McLuhan wrote about in the 1960s seems to have exploded and scattered into self-contained little islands.

Recent Posts

Solitude in art: musings during a coronavirus lockdown

Solitude in art: musings during a coronavirus lockdown

Entire cities and countries are in lockdown because of the coronavirus. Millions are forced to stay at home, marooned like the pirate in the 1903 drawing by American illustrator and author Howard Pyle (from his Book of Pirates). Humans being hopelessly social creatures, it is a miserable state of affairs. Even so, I hope the following works of art, together with my random reflections, would help mitigate the misery of those who are not used to being isolated from the crowd.

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Glimpses of greed in maritime Manila (real-life stories)

Glimpses of greed in maritime Manila (real-life stories)

There is a culture of greed in maritime Manila which reminds me of Gustave Doré‘s drawing of the greedy and indulgent pushing rocks in Dante’s Inferno. Not all have succumbed to the greed. I have known a few spirits whose kind-heartedness and generosity have helped preserve my faith in humanity. However, many folks, particularly in Manila’s manning community, have capitulated to Mammon, to the siren call of money. The following are two of my personal encounters with them, both excerpted from my e-book, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila:

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Six good ways to prepare for an EMSA STCW inspection

Six good ways to prepare for an EMSA STCW inspection

Non-EU countries supplying crews to EU-flagged vessels undergo periodic inspections by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). Some may see this as outside interference, an assault even on national sovereignty. But that is just the way things are. Now, the EMSA inspectors can be a bit pedantic when it comes to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). They may nitpick or find fault in small details. The following may help maritime officials and training institutions brace themselves for the dreaded visit by EMSA:

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Old artworks that make one think of manning agents

Old artworks that make one think of manning agents

To be sure, not all manning agents are bad. Some are scrupulous and treat seafarers fairly. In Manila, however, there is a culture of greed to which many crewing companies have succumbed. I am reminded of an 1881 illustration (pictured above) from the 19th-century weekly newspaper, L’Illustration européenne. It shows an old man taking bags of gold coins to his deathbed and exclaiming “Alas, must I leave you my dear lambs”.

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Why EMSA should publish the results of its STCW audits

Why EMSA should publish the results of its STCW audits

Between 2005 and 2019, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) made a total of 74 visits to non-EU countries — from Israel and Tunisia to Indonesia and the Philippines. This shows how seriously the EU takes the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). However, in no instance did EMSA make public its findings. The lack of transparency may save some countries from embarassment, but ultimately, it is neither good for them or their seafarers.

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Baduanjin: A beautiful Chinese exercise (by the sea)

Baduanjin: A beautiful Chinese exercise (by the sea)

Many years ago, I learned about Baduanjin (also known as Eight Pieces of Brocade), a Chinese qigong exercise whose origins go back to the 11th century, during the Song Dynasty. The term qigong consists of the characters “qi” (vital energy or spirit) and “gong” (cultivation or mastery). Baduanjin is easy to learn. Probably the best place for performing the exercise is by the sea, but it can done anywhere that is quiet and comfortable.

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STCW and Filipinos: 3 crucial questions EMSA should ask

STCW and Filipinos: 3 crucial questions EMSA should ask

For the nth time since 2006, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is conducting another inspection in the Philippines to verify its complaince with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). It normally inspects non-EU countries supplying crews to EU-flagged ships once every five years. This entire thing has been a never-ending fandango. All the dancers have been going round and round to the STCW music. They must be tired by now, so why not cut to the chase? In my view, the EMSA team needs to ask only three questions at this stage.

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A seafarer’s short guide to choosing a manning agency

A seafarer’s short guide to choosing a manning agency

There are good and bad manning agencies, but I personally would rather have a hiring hall do the crew selection and deployment. I have seen enough in maritime Manila to say that crewing companies are a necessary evil. But they are not going away anytime soon. The best that seafarers can do is be discerning enough to deal only with the decent ones — definitely not an easy task if there are so many to choose from.

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