Seafarers’ rights and art: what’s the connection?

Seafarers’ rights and art: what’s the connection?

Anyone who has been following Marine Café Blog knows that I frequently talk about seafarers’ rights and marine art. These two subjects are the main courses, as it were, on the menu — the recurring themes that have come to define the tone and character of the blog. But why art in conjunction with the rights of mariners?

The answer is simple. As I noted in a 2012 article, “In the 21st century, the biggest challenge faced by shipping is not how to improve maritime safety or reduce piracy attacks. It is how to reclaim its humanity.” I see art as helping achieve that end insofar as all art is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit. At the same time, I believe that no such celebration is possible without upholding the rights of shipping’s prime movers: the seafarers.

In the 21st century, the biggest challenge faced by shipping is. . . how to reclaim its humanity. I see art as helping achieve that end insofar as all art is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit. 

There is a deeper connection between seafarers’ rights and art. Like all human beings, seafarers have certain inalienable rights which would still exist even if ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and all other related laws did not. Such rights are sacrosanct and are beautiful by virtue of being so. Violating them is like scratching or spraying graffiti on a beautiful work of art.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Why join the ‘wellness at sea’ and other bandwagons?

Why join the ‘wellness at sea’ and other bandwagons?

bandwagon: an activity, group, movement, etc. that has become successful or fashionable and so attracts many new people (Cambridge Dictionary)


There is nothing wrong with bandwagons per se. In fact, they are often necessary in bringing about change as the whole world is witnessing in the case of women’s rights and climate action. The problem arises when people are swayed by rhetoric, not reason, and unthinkingly hop onto the wagon just because it is fashionable to do so. Unfortunately, this is happening with the bandwagon that carries the banners “Wellness at Sea” and “Seafarer Mental Health”.

No one can deny that the mental well-being of seafarers is important, not only to the seafarers and their families, but to the shipping industry itself. Neither can anybody argue that depression at sea is not a serious problem. The statistics suggest that it is.

However, the way the maritime charities are talking about the issue makes one think that depression is an epidemic sweeping the seafaring world. Unwittingly, the do-gooders are creating an image of 21st-century seafarers as weak and vulnerable creatures who are prey to the meanderings of their own minds. Is this how the industry wants seafarers to see themselves?

To make matters worse, one charity has been clamoring to make wellness training for seafarers mandatory through an amendment of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. If successful, this would make the milestone convention, no longer a ‘bill of rights’ for seafarers, but a bill of opportunities for the maritime do-gooders. Many who have joined the bandwagon do not bother to ask: what’s in it for those pulling the wagon?

The same unquestioning attitude can be seen in the case of the biggest maritime bandwagon of all, the annual ‘Day of the Seafarer’. Marine Café Blog was the first and still the only one to call it what it is — an anomaly. From a blog post in 2016:

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 anomaly of the Day of the Seafarer)

Alas, it’s a conformist world. Anyone who hesitates or refuses to join the bandwagon is seen as nothing more than a grinch and a spoilsport. The herd mentality reigns supreme in shipping no less than in the subservient maritime press.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Promoting art in a shipping world crazed by money

Promoting art in a shipping world crazed by money

Corporate offices cannot be expected to serve as small art galleries. But why should shipping and manning companies display only ISM and MLC certificates on their lobby walls? Why not also marine paintings, even if they are only repro works by famous artists? Some art would help give the premises a more pleasant atmosphere. It would also send a subtle message to visitors that the CEO knows how to appreciate art and is not a certified philistine.

Promoting art in an industry that is always in a mad scramble for profits will probably not be easy. How many maritime folks have the time for art? And yet, there are compelling reasons for promoting marine art — not least because it is part of humankind’s maritime heritage. Here are a three ways:

Give international awards to companies that have done the most to promote marine art. Perhaps the International Maritime Organization can launch such an awards programme. If bravery at sea and gender equality are so important to the IMO, why shouldn’t it treat marine art the same way?

Encourage ship owners to display marine art in the galleys and mess halls of their fleets. Art can have great therapeutic value. Yet, those who blabber about depression amongst seafarers do not mention it as one approach to the problem they say is very serious.

Incorporate marine art history and appreciation in the curriculum of maritime colleges. Education is not only meant to prepare the young to acquire the skills and knowledge they would need in the world of work. It is also a journey towards personal fulfilment and the well-rounded development of the individual.

 

To go back to the question, why promote marine art? One of the best answers was given by the English novelist and playwright, John Galsworthy. Speaking of art in general, he wrote in his 1911 essay, ‘Vague Thoughts On Art’:

Art is the one form of human energy in the whole world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers between man and man. It is the continual, unconscious replacement, however fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human life; the everlasting refreshment and renewal.

As things stand today in the shipping industry, many could make use of such refreshment and renewal.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Drumming up the abuse of cadets in a deaf world

Drumming up the abuse of cadets in a deaf world

Who gives a hoot in Manila about maritime cadet exploitation?

I first wrote about the use of Filipino cadets as unpaid office workers and servants in September 2013. I was hoping that the article would draw the attention of the powers that be to this form of exploitation. I even entertained the idea that the maritime press in Manila would pick up the story and delve into the matter. Nothing of the sort happened.

Feeling quite dismayed, I stayed away from the subject until 2019, when I came up with four blog posts in a bid to revive the whole issue. Except for strong reactions from some seafarers on social media, my message seemed to fall on deaf ears. But how could it be otherwise?

In this part of the planet, manning agencies and some unions consider it perfectly normal to use cadets as unpaid labour, in many cases for months on end. The seafarer charities are aware of the practice, but none has come out to publicly condemn it. As for local maritime journalists, many would rather kiss ass than take up the cudgels for the cadets who are exploited in such blatant manner.

For those interested, here are the articles on the subject that have appeared in this blog:

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Life on the waterfront: an invitation to photographers

Life on the waterfront: an invitation to photographers

There are few places in a town or city that are more interesting than the waterfront. Shopping malls certainly do not have the same kind of energy and atmosphere one finds at the wharves and piers, on boardwalks and esplanades. With this in mind, Marine Café Blog is inviting all photographers to submit their photos for an upcoming special feature. No prize is at stake. This is a celebration of life on the waterfront and the Joy of photography. I hope you’ll take part in the celebration.

Guidelines for Photographers

1. Your photo/s should depict life on the waterfront — e.g., cargo being unloaded on a wharf, people sitting or taking a stroll on the waterfront, a sailor messing about in a boat.

2. Entries should have a width of at least 1280 pixels, in colour or monochrome. They shoud not bear any markings. You may submit a maxium of three photos.

3. Titles or captions are optional, but you should indicate the year when the photo was taken.

4. Photos will be judged according to composition, content and overall impact. Preference will be given to photos with a strong human interest and photos that are not heavily edited.

5. Ten or more of the outstanding photos will be featured in Marine Café Blog with proper credits given to the photographers.

6. Email your photos to marinecafeblog@gmail.com or post them on Facebook as comments on the announcements.

7. Deadline for submission of photos is 28th of January 2020, 12:00 PM GMT.

Enjoy clicking!