7 best things that could happen to seafarers (hopefully)

7 best things that could happen to seafarers (hopefully)

Seafarers are not asking for much. They certainly don’t expect to be treated like prima donnas. They just want a seaworthy vessel, good pay, decent food and accommodation at sea, and humane employers. Unfortunately, these needs are not always met. Seafarers from developing countries often get the short end of the stick — victims, not only of those who abuse them, but of a system that has virtually reduced them to mere commodities. Call it wishful thinking, but the following changes would help reverse the situation.

1. Easing of burdensome training requirements

Ship officers won’t have to undergo another round of training to renew their certificates. Their sea experience will be given proper weight. Unnecessary courses such as the money-making Maritime English will be scrapped.

2. Rogue shipowners held accountable

Shipowners who operate unseasworthy vessels or whose policies result in serious accidents will face heavy fines and imprisonment in case of the loss of human lives. Those who abandon their crews will be sanctioned and blacklisted.

3. Proper vetting of manning agencies

Unions will see to it that seafarers are paid the right wages under the collective bargaining agreement and their remittances are properly handled by the manning agency. Both unions and shipping companies will immediately cut their ties with any manning agency found to have cheated and otherwise exploited seafarers.

4. Honest handling of seafarer remittances

Seafarers’ family allotments will be paid directly to the families (allottees) as mandated by ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. They will not pass through the hands of manning agents, who, as regularly happens in Manila, play with the foreign exchange rate to short-change their crews.

5. Prompt release of sickness, disability and death benefits

Manning agencies will facilitate payment of such benefits due to seafarers. They will refrain from using legal manoeuvres and other ploys to block the release of the money in order to ingratiate themselves with their foreign principals.

6. Facilitation of the departure of seafarers at international airports

As workers who are critical to global trade, seafarers will be processed at airports through a dedicated fast lane. They will not be subjected to any form of harrassment and racial profiling but accorded respect by airport, immigration and customs personnel.

7. Coordinated action to repatriate seafarers

All parties concerned (shipowners, governments, port authorities, etc.) will do everything possible to repatriate seafarers under the circumstances spelled out in ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. Seafarers will not be left stranded in foreign ports and harbours for long periods because of inaction by those responsible.

~ Barista Uno

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Vintage maritime photos that will pique your curiosity

Vintage maritime photos that will pique your curiosity

Some photographs do more than delight the eye. They make you pause and wonder. Something in the picture bids you to take a closer look. It could be the unusual subject matter or the way the photographer captured the scene. The following maritime shots from long ago have such an effect on the viewer. They demonstrate what the English author Joseph Addison wrote in his 1712 essay, ‘Pleasures of the Imagination’: “Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed.

Holland — woman drawing canal boat, c. 1910 – c. 1915
Bain News Service (publisher)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

There is something strange and humorous in this photo of an elderly woman with a pretty hat on pulling a canal boat. One cannot help but ask why she would do such a thing. The scene calls to mind the burlaks (barge haulers) that Russian artist Ilya Repin depicted in his iconic 1870 painting, Barge Haulers on the Volga.

Cascade ales & beers reach farther south [penguins, sea elephants, a man wearing a hat and holding a sign and several other men on the Nuggets beach, Macquarie Island, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914]
Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885-1962)
Courtesy of the National Library of Australia

The penguins don’t seem to mind the invasion of their turf by humans. The sign the two men are holding up reads: ‘CASCADE ALES AND BEERS REACH FARTHER SOUTH’. This old photo is rather prophetic given how the great powers — Russia, China and the United States — are scrambling in the 21st century to exploit Antarctica. The power play goes beyond ales and beers.

American Barque “Jane Tudor,” Conway Bay, c. 1855
David Johnson (British photographer, no other details available)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The ship in the picture appears to be listing dangerously to port but does not fall to the water. It remains steady, like a ballet dancer momentarily holding her pose on stage. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to the anchor dangling from the bow as if keeping the vessel in place.

Mushroom ice formation, 1912
Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885–1962)
Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

At first glance, it looks like the mushrooms formed when America dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Icebergs can be deadly, however. One spelled doom for the Titanic in 1912 — the same year this photo was taken by Frank Hurley, who was part of the 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

[Houdini, in a packing case, is lowered into New York Bay], c. 1914
Carl Dietz (no details available about photographer)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

The Library of Congress has solved half of the puzzle in these two photos by captioning them. The other remains for the viewer to solve. How did Harry Houdini escape from the box which was said to contain 600 lbs. of iron weights? Records show that the great illusionist and stunt performer managed to free himself in two minutes and 55 seconds.

Travel views of Europe, between 1904 and 1938
Arnold Genthe (German-American, 1869–1942)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

What are the well-dressed folks looking at in the water? They seem engrossed by what they see as the man on the extreme left strides along, seemingly unconcerned.

~ Barista Uno

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A maverick’s thesaurus: Synonyms for maritime terms

A maverick’s thesaurus: Synonyms for maritime terms

“What’s in a name?” asked Juliet in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The following synonyms for some maritime names and phrases may not smell sweet to the parties referred to. I hope, however, that readers of Marine Café Blog will find them funny, yet not detached from reality.


1   International Maritime Organization: IMOney

2   Maritime slogan: maritime food for mynahs

3   Maritime press: maritime cut-and-paste factory

4   Maritime PR agency: maritime spammers

5   Nautical school: fastfood diploma chain

6   Seafarers’ charity: maritime donation drop box

7   Seafarers’ union: maritime brokerage house

8   Manning agent: money changer, ship screwing agent

9   Seafarers: martyrs of global trade

10 Ship captain: shipboard despot

11 Chief mate: assistant shipboard despot

12 Maritime award: corporate ego-booster

13 Maritime conference: talkathon-cum-coffee

14 Classification society: pre-accident surveyors

~ Barista Uno

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Why seafarers, sadly, will go on being exploited

Why seafarers, sadly, will go on being exploited

Why are seafarers still being exploited and subjected to all sorts of abuse in the 21st century? It is as though they were entangled in a vast web full of opportunistic spiders. All this in spite of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006; the loud, incessant talk about seafarers’ rights; and the new stream of slogans about seafarers being ’key workers’ and ‘heroes of global trade’. The reasons for this sad state of affairs are not hard to find . One only has to turn to some old proverbs for the answers.

Opportunity creates desire. Opportunity makes the thief. (Dutch proverbs)

Opportunities are endless for those who would profit off seafarers, sometimes in the most unethical ways. Ironically, the opportunities stem in large part from the gamut of regulations that govern the merchant marine profession — not the least being the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW)

Everyone is cashing in. Even the International Maritime Organization (IMO) makes moolah from the sale of the STCW convention and code. Some create the opportunity where it does not exist, such as the maritime charities who are exploiting the issue of depression at sea to earn from mental health training courses.

Where there is honey, there are bound to be ants. (South African proverb)

Seafarers from the Third World, particularly ship officers, earn more than many of their countrymen who labour on shore. They are like work bees that produce honey — plenty of it. In 2019, remittances from Filipino seafarers totalled $6.54 billion. That’s a lot of honey for the dishonest manning agents who short-change seafarers when converting the dollars to Philippine currency for disbursement as family allotments.

Seafarers attract other kinds of predators. As I wrote in my book, ‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’: “They lie at the bottom of the maritime food chain, preyed upon by motley characters — thieving lawyers, greedy manning agents, slimy fixers, dishonest medical clinics and mendicant relatives.” So much for ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. The greater part of the exploitation of seafarers takes place on land, not on board ships.

No gain satisfies a greedy mind. (Latin proverb)

In this proverb lies the simplest reason why seafarers are exploited . Human greed knows no bounds. The Buddhist scripture, Dhammapada, puts it in more poetic terms:

As creeping ivy craving grows
in one living carelessly.
Like this, one leaps from life to life
as ape in the forest seeking fruit.

(from Buddhanet)

Add to this the predatory infrastructure that exists in the shipping and manning world and the strong current of 21st century materialism — and we are faced with the spectre of unending seafarer exploitation.

~ Barista Uno

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Facing adversity: Great quotes for these trying times

Facing adversity: Great quotes for these trying times

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet of essays, Crisis’. He was referring to the American Revolution and the harsh winter of 1776. His statement, however, could apply as well to the time of the coronavirus — indeed, to any time when a person has to  wrestle with an extraordinarily difficult or unpleasant situation. I hope the following quotes will provide some inspiration to my readers, especially those who toil at sea and take risks others don’t have to face.

Fate is a raging storm blowing over the Land. ~ Sumerian proverb, Collection II at The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (3rd millennium BCE)

Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. ~ Francis Bacon, Essays, Of Adversity (1597)

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. ~ Helen Keller, The Open Door (1957)

We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body; which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot “even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other men. The suffering which comes from thislast source is perhaps more painful to us than any other. ~ Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)

The Signal of Distress, 1890 – 1896
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Let me embrace thee, sour adversity,
For wise men say it is the wisest course.

~ William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III (c. 1591)

Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men. ~ Seneca the Younger, De Providentia (AD c. 64)

If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small. ~ The Bible, Proverbs 24:10

Things are not bad in themselves, but our cowardice makes them so. ~ Michel de Montaigne, Essais (1595)

The Fog Warnng, 1885
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Facing it — always facing it — that’s the way to get through. ~ Joseph Conrad, Typhoon (1902)

There is scarcely any passion without struggle. ~ Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1955)

The higher man is distinguished from the lower by his fearlessness and his readiness to challenge misfortune. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power (1914)

We are all tied to Fortune, some by a loose and golden chain, and others by a tight one of baser metal: but what does it matter?… So you have to get used to your circumstances, complain about them as little as possible, and grasp whatever advantage they have to offer: no condition is so bitter that a stable mind cannot find some consolation in it. ~ Seneca, On the Shortness of Life (AD c.?49) 

Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear. ~ Marcus Aurelius, The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (1889), translated by George Long

After the Hurricane, Bahamas, 1899
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us. ~ Hermann Hesse, Peter Camenzind (1904)

Have patience and endure; this unhappiness will one day be beneficial. ~ Ovid, Amorum (16 BC)

He went like one that hath been stunn’d,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798, 1817)

~ Barista Uno

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