An alternative maritime dictionary for the times

An alternative maritime dictionary for the times

Why an alternative maritime dictionary? Firstly because language is a living organism, constantly evolving and adapting to the times. Secondly because existing definitions of certain words and phrases may not exactly correspond to reality. In fact, they sometimes contradict it. Here are some entries (not arranged alphabetically) in Marine Café Blog’s New Maritime Lexicon:

seafarer — A person who travels by sea and has a big bundle of training certificates

training certificate — A seafarer’s meal ticket; a piece of paper often substituted for sea experience

COP — Acronym for Certificate of Proficiency but could also mean Certificate of Payment since the document can sometimes be obtained if the price is right

Day of the Seafarer — An annual event during which tributes are made to seafarers by people who exploit them the rest of the year.

maritime conference — A multiple-day event where they serve more clichés than coffee

manning agent — The equivalent of a meat packer who makes more money than a meat packer can dream of


In the Marine Café Blog archives:


What’s with ‘the human element’?

shipowner — A person who owns a ship or shares in a ship but sometimes acts as if he also owned the crew

depression at sea — A complex mental condition amongst seafarers which maritime charities try to simplify by handing out self-help pamphlets

seafarers’ rights — A source of livelihood for those who advocate them professionally or as their main activity in life

utility — Used by Filipinos to refer to a cadet who is utilised as slave labour by a manning agency, in some cases for months on end; a kinder term is “maritime flunkey”

family allotment — In the Philippine context, the dollars sent home for the sustenance of the seafarer’s family as well as the sustenance of thievish manning agents who disburse the money

maritime press — An echo chamber for the maritime establishment and public relations firms

maritime award — an award given by maritime publications and other organisations primarily to promote and market themselves 

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Depression at sea: six wacky solutions that may work

Depression at sea: six wacky solutions that may work

Depression amongst seafarers is a serious matter. However, I am amused by the way maritime do-gooders have been approaching the problem. For instance, I hear a renewed call for greater access to the internet for seafarers. Undoubtedly, connecting with family and friends on Facebook can mitigate loneliness. But I don’t see how that would improve one’s mental health or address severe cases of depression. One maritime charity is even pushing for mandatory wellness training . How dumb and self-serving! They should come up with more daring and more imaginative solutions, such as the following:

Use colour therapy to renovate and repaint ships, including crew cabins.

The idea is not as crazy as it sounds. Indigo, for example, is said to have a calming effect on those suffering from depression and anxiety. That is according to, one of the world’s largest sites dedicated to depression and mental health.

Install jacuzzis for officers and crew.

Providing the crew with decent and comfortable  accomodation as mandated by ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, is not enough. Seafarers should also be able to relax in a jacuzzi. The underwater jets of water will massage their bodies, relieve stress, and induce a sense of well-being.

Have a well-stocked bar on board.

Excessive alcohol intake can lead to depression and should be discouraged. But what’s wrong with a swig or two? The bar should be open only in the evening and on certain days of the week — say, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Devote shipboard space for a karaoke lounge.

Seafarers need an outlet for expressing their emotions. A karaoke lounge is ideal for this purpose. A monthly singing contest can be held with prizes donated by the maritime charities.

Photo credit: Kobay CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

Organise shipboard tours by known singers and musicians.

American singers such as James Brown and Sammy Davis Jr. performed for the US troops in Vietnam. Why not have similar tours for seafarers whilst their ships are at port? Seafarers may not suffer from shell shock, but they need  morale boosters. Crew members can take selfies together with popular musicians instead of obscure Bible-carrying pastors who do ship visits.

Distribute scrabble and other board games to seafarers instead of self-help pamphlets.

Depression is not a DIY problem. Severe cases of the condition require psychological counselling or drug therapy, not self-help materials. Playing scrabble can help seafarers deal with loneliness and improve their proficiency in maritime English.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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A photographic journey to New York Harbor (before Photoshop)

A photographic journey to New York Harbor (before Photoshop)

Barista Uno

New York is a great city. Even Leon Trotsky, the rabid Marxist revolutionary, was impressed. He wrote in his 1930 memoir, My Life: Here I was in New York, city of prose and fantasy, of capitalist automatism, its streets a triumph of cubism, its moral philosophy that of the dollar. New York impressed me tremendously because, more than any other city in the world, it is the fullest expression of our modern age.

However, no portrait of New York would be complete without including New York Harbor. The history-filled harbour is part of the Port of New York and New Jersey and part of the reason the city is great, why it fascinates and enthralls. If not for it, would the Big Apple be what it is today? Here’s a look at New York Harbour through the lens of early American photographers, long before the advent of digital cameras and Photoshop:

In the Marine Café Blog archives:

New York Harbor and one woman’s art

A freighter pulling into New York Harbor (1941)
Jack Delano (1914–1997) / US Library of Congress

“I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline,” said one of the main characters in The Fountainhead, a 1948 novel by Russian-born American writer Ayn Rand. New York Harbor enhances the beauty of that skyline, which even foggy weather cannot subdue.

Lower Manhattan seen from the S.S. Coamo leaving New York (1941)
Jack Delano (1914–1997) / US Library of Congress

The American flag on the S.S. Coamo stands proudly like the skyscapers in the distance. The  three unnamed passengers in this historic photo may have long faded into oblivion, but not the ship they were on. American photographer Jack Delano took this shot in December 1941. In January the following year, the passenger steam ship Coamo was time chartered as a US Army transport. On 2nd December 1942, it was destroyed by a German U-boat, killing all 186 merchant ship officers, crew members and armed guards (read more about the S.S. Coamo on

The City of Ambitions (1910)
Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

New York has been called “The City that Never Sleeps”. Alfred Stieglitz makes a poetic interpretation of the moniker in his iconic photograph. The water in the foreground is calm. Set against an overcast sky, the skycrapers stand like silent sentinels in the fortress of American capitalism. The atmosphere is languid and laid-back, but the smoke billowing out of the buildings suggests a city that is always on the go — driven by the mad, mundane ambitions of its inhabitants.

S.S. Queen Mary in New York Harbor, circa 1936
Unnamed photographer / US Library of Congress

New York City is a major theatre of trade and commerce, and New York Harbor has served as the stage for big stars of the maritime transport world Amongst them was the British ocean liner RMS Queen Mary, which sailed on her maiden voyage in May 1936 from Southampton, England. Find out more about the ship and her maiden voyage here.

IMPERATOR starts (1913)
Bain News Service / US Library of Congress

Time was when ship arrivals and departures were major city events. New Yorkers turned out in force on 25th June 1913 to see the S.S. Imperator start the return leg eastward of its maiden voyage. The 52,117-tonne German passenger liner was the the world’s largest ship when it was launched on 23rd May 1912, barely a month after the loss of the RMS Titanic (more about the storied S.S. Imperator here).

Watuppa, from water front, Brooklyn, Manhattan. 1936
Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) / The New York Public Library  

It is hard to imagine New York Harbor without tugboats. Then as now, these big little workhorses of the waterfront contributed to the vitality and charm of the city and its harbour.

Four immigrants and their belongings on a dock on Ellis Island (1912)
Underwood & Underwood, publisher / US Library of Congress

These four immigrants look toward a mist-shrouded New York as they wait to be taken off Ellis Island in upper New York Harbor, the portal for most new migrants to America. Although they have their backs to the camera, their sense of hope for a better life is palpable.

Liberty Island, New York Harbor (circa 1890)
Unnamed photographer / US Library of Congress

It is not only the Statue of Liberty but New York Harbor itself which has come to symbolise freedom and America’s old welcoming spirit.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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An exemplary manning agency seafarers would love

An exemplary manning agency seafarers would love

In the rough and tumble of ship crewing, a completely honest and professional manning agency with real empathy for seafarers can be as hard to find as diamonds in the sand. Seafarers, however, are not looking for diamonds. They simply want to be employed. Their expectations are not very high. They usually flock to the agency that offers higher salaries for the shipboard positions they seek. Some look for other things besides (e.g., pension fund coverage, family welfare programme). Here is my own list of 10 things that make an ideal manning agency:


Has foreign principals with a reputation for caring for seafarers and paying decent wages


Ensures that office staff treat seafarers professionally and with utmost respect


Hires crew based on qualifications and experience, not on whether they are relatives of the staff or were recommended by influential people


Does not engage in the blacklisting of seafarers


Looks after the interests and welfare of its seafarers; does not side with erring foreign ship masters at their expense


(For manning agencies in Manila) Releases family allotments on time using the prevailing foreign exchange rate


Facilitates legitimate money claims instead of stonewalling them (e.g., sickness and disability benefits, overtime pay)


Strictly forbids all its employees from demanding or accepting money or gifts from seafarers


Does not use maritime cadets as unpaid office help or servants (this is servitude, not internship)


Has no unholy alliance with training centres, review centres and medical clinics


How many such manning agencies exist? That is the sixty-four-dollar question.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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A voyage to old Venice (before the tourism plague)

A voyage to old Venice (before the tourism plague)

Barista Uno

I have never travelled to Venice. But thanks to the power of art, I feel that I have been there many times and navigated its canals on board a gondola and walked across the famous Rialto Bridge. The paintings and etchings shown below depict the Venice of old. This was the Venice before mega cruise ships started coming and discharging hordes of tourists to the dismay and anger of the city’s local inhabitants. It was the Venice that inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write his 1877 sonnet, Venice:

White swan of cities, slumbering in thy nest
So wonderfully built among the reeds
Of the lagoon, that fences thee and feeds,
As sayeth thy old historian and thy guest!
White water-lily, cradled and caressed
By ocean streams, and from the silt and weeds
Lifting thy golden filaments and seeds.
Thy sun-illumined spires, thy crown and crest!
White phantom city, whose untrodden streets
Are rivers, and whose pavements are the shifting
Shadows of palaces and strips of sky;
I wait to see thee vanish like the fleets
Seen in mirage, or towers of cloud uplifting
In air their unsubstantial masonry.

Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana, late 18th century?
Follower of Francesco Guardi, Italian (active Venice), 1712 – 1793 / Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rialto Bridge, circa 1730
Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, Italian, 1697–1768 / Philadelphia Museum of Art

View of the Grand Canal in Venice, 1839
Adolf Friedrich Vollmer (German, 1806–1875) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honor of Frederick IV, King of Denmark, 1711
Luca Carlevarijs (Italian, 1663–1730) / The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

View from the Piazzetta, 1740s?
Follower of Canaletto (Italian, 1697–1768) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

Venetian View, late 18th century
Follower of Francesco Guardi (Italian, 1712–1793) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

In Venice (Aus Venedig), circa 1838–1843
Wilhelm Gail (German, 1804–1890) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ca d’Oro, Venice, 1922
Donald MacLaughlan (Canadian-born American, 1876–1938) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Rialto, Venice, 1911
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

Canal in Venice, before 1877
Félix-Francois Georges Philibert Ziem (French, 1821–1911 / Philadelphia Museum of Art

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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