A maritime writer’s credo

A maritime writer’s credo

The samurai had their bushido, a code of conduct that guided the way they thought and acted. If one considers writing a noble profession, why shouldn’t writers have one, too? After years of wielding pen and pounding keyboards, I finally got down to crafting my personal credo as a maritime writer.

I will write knowing that there are things I do not know.

  I will speak my mind without fear of being disliked.

  I will write only what I believe in and not pander to the crowd.

  I will give praise when it is called for without currying favour with anyone.

  I will strive, to the best of my ability, to describe the maritime world in all its richness, complexity and beauty.

  I will keep in mind that the ultimate but unexpressed goal of shipping and transport is to bridge the gap between nations and individuals.

  I will uphold the rights of those who work at sea, yet never lose sight of the prime importance for every individual of duty.

  I will write as though tomorrow I will no longer be able to use my hand.

~ Barista Uno

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40 different ways to exploit and abuse seafarers

40 different ways to exploit and abuse seafarers

This is a major rewrite of an article that first appeared in Marine Café Blog in 2021.

People can talk all day long about seafarers’ rights. The fact remains, however, that seafarers lie at the bottom of the maritime food chain. The forms of exploitation and mistreatment of those who man merchant ships are myriad.

And the perpetrators? They are a motley group, from shipowners and manning agents to medical doctors and maritime lawyers. Even some active or retired mariners can take advantage of their felllow mariners. The following is a list of things they do which continue to erode seafarers’ rights in the 21st century. Though far from being exhaustive, it paints a sombre picture of what many seafarers have to endure—beyond the sweet-sounding rhetoric and slogans about them.

On land

1. Register a ship under a flag of convenience to hide its real ownership, escape tax and other liabilities, and benefit from cheap labour

2. Exact money from seafarer applicants

3. Practise favouritism in the hiring of seafarers

4. Blacklist seafarers who report abuses to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

5. Let ship officers wait outdoors under the heat of the sun instead of providing an officers’ lounge for their comfort

6. Demand or expect gifts from seafarers returning from sea (e.g., a Johnny Walker or a bottle of perfume to show gratitude to crewing managers)

7. Require cruise ship personnel to undergo medical exams more often than usual (i.e., once in a one-year period)

8. Tell seafarers to undergo surgery for some illness even if it’s not necessary

9. Withhold payment of seafarers’ family allotments and invest the money to earn interest for the manning agency

10. Skim money from the dollar remittances of crew

11. Stonewall seafarers when they follow up unpaid salaries and overtime pay

12. Deny seafarers immediate access to moneys already awarded to them in litigation (by establishing, for example, an escrow fund to keep the money until a final decision from the highest court of the land)

13. Prevent seafarers by legislation and other means from filing tort claims against shipowners for personal injuries

14. Milk seafarers for legal services rendered in connection with money claims

15. Impose unnecessary or redundant training requirements

16. Provide substandard training and education

17. Operate maritime schools and training facilities with poor or outdated equipment

18. Conduct and charge for the “assessment” of shipboard apprentices after they disembark from their vessel (what’s the Training Record Book for?)

19. Issue training certificates to no-show seafarers for a fee

20. Use cadets as unpaid office workers and domestic servants

21. Subject cadets to hazing and other forms of physical and verbal abuse

22. Collect union dues without giving tangible benefits to union members

23. Use the plight of seafarers (e.g., depression at sea) as an excuse to keep donations flowing to a maritime charity

At sea

24. Operate vessels that are unseaworthy or lack adequate life-saving equipment

25. Ignore the minimum levels of manning required under international regulations

26. Provide shipboard food and accommodation not conducive to health and comfort

27. Steal from the food budget alloted for the crew

28. Treat ship officers from developing countries as inferior to Western officers

29. Ignore allegations of shipboard sexual harassment and discrimination

30. Issue questionable or illegal orders and expect the crew to follow them on pain of punishment (remember the 2004 Bow Mariner disaster?)

31. Allow shore managers and supernumeraries to usurp the duties and responsibilities of the ship master

32. Overload ship officers with paper work while at sea

33. Be late in paying shipboard wages or don’t pay them at all

34. Practise double-payrolling

35. Restrict shore leave for no valid reason

36. Abandon the crew when the shipping company finds itself in financial straits

37. Delay the repatriation of a sick or deceased crew member

38. Place more value on the ship and its cargo than on the safety and welfare of the crew

39. Put the entire crew in grave danger through negligence or incompetence on the part of the ship captain

40. Send home a crew member who complains about conditions on board

~ Barista Uno

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Seeing the spectacle of sunsets minus the colours

Seeing the spectacle of sunsets minus the colours

What crazy photographer would take pictures of a sunset in black and white? Colours delight and even mesmerise the viewer. They are addictive. Some photographers, though, have gone off the beaten path to make unforgettable images of sunsets sans the colours everyone is used to.

The following three photos (with my annotations in italics) are a testament to the power of black & white in the hands of a skilled photographer. Click on the images for a larger view.

Sunset, Kapiti Island, no date
Photo by James Walter Chapman-Taylor (New Zealander, 1878–1958)
Courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa

The photographer opted to leave out the solar orb and focus on the broad expanse of water reflecting the dying light of day. The sea is calm, but the ripples convey a sense of forward rhythmic movement. The shadowy row of trees on the shore serves to frame the majestic view while hinting at the coming of night.

Sunset over Banks Lake and Steamboat Rock with man fishing in foreground, October 31, 1952
Lawrence Denny Lindsley (American, 1878–1975
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division
NOTE: Image is republished by Marine Café Blog under the Fair Use principle.

A tangle of clouds makes up the upper half of this photo. In the lower half, the sky is mirrored by the lake but is transformed from a state of confusion to one of absolute calm. Reinforcing the quietude of the landscape is the solitary figure of a fisherman at the bottom of the picture.

Sunset in the Royal Gorge, Colorado, c. 1901
Photo by William Henry Jackson (American, 1843–1942)
Detroit Publishing Co., publisher
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

This striking photo would have wowed the great landscape photographer, Ansel Adams. Light from the setting sun streams down to accentuate the rugged and timeless beauty of the Royal Gorge. The word “dramatic” is overused, but it is apropos in this instance.

~ Barista Uno

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My one and only regret as a maritime writer

My one and only regret as a maritime writer

My one and only regret as a maritime writer

Aften. Melankoli I ( Evening. Melancholy I), 1896
Colour woodcut by Edvard Munch
Photo © Munchmuseet / Halvor Bjørngård
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Munchmuseet.

“Of all fruitless errands, sending a tear to look after a day that is gone is the most fruitless,” wrote Charles Dickens in his novel Nicholas Nickleby. How so true. Yet, how many of us have not run the errand Dickens spoke of? As a maritime writer, I’ve had only one regret which I fortunately jettisoned after some soul-searching.

I regretted that I gave praise to some individuals and organisations that did not deserve it. To be honest, It took me a while to realise that I had mistaken appearance for reality.

“All that glitters is not gold,” reads a line from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice (Act 2, Scene 7). I was a fool to ignore the admonition. In some cases, I wrote positive things about the subject of the article, not to curry favour, but simply to make some people happy. I thought that in doing so I would earn some good karma.

That was kind of silly. The upside of committing these errors of judgement is that I have learned three precious lessons about being a writer: 1) Do not concern yourself with being liked or disliked by your readers. Writing is not a popularity game; 2) Look beyond the appearance. Things are not always what they seem and words spoken are not always the complete truth; and 3) Write sincerely and never forget the power of empathy.

~ Barista Uno

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Sunset Over Water: A black & white photo challenge

Sunset Over Water: A black & white photo challenge

Sunset from the Battery, New York, 1900
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sunsets are a well-worn subject in photography. However, to capture a sunset in black & white can be a real challenge—a test of the photographer’s artistic eye and technical savvy. With this in mind, I am inviting amateur and professional photographers to take part in a special Marine Café Blog feature on the theme ‘Sunset Over Water’. I intend to select the top 10 photos.

Interested in this fun challenge? Please read the following carefully for your guidance.

Guidelines for photographers

1) The photo should depict any body of water at sunset. Titles or captions are desirable but not mandatory.

2) The picture should be in greyscale (black & white), They should have a width of at least 1024 pixels with no text or logo superimposed on the photo. 

3) You may submit a maximum of three (3) photos. Kindly emal them to: marinecafeblog@gmail.com or post them as comments to my Facebook posts on the subject.

4) The top photos will be selected according to:

a/ composition

b/ handling of light, tone, texture, etc.

c/ overall impact

5) DEADLINE for submission is 1 pm GMT, 15th of March 2024

Do note that all entries will remain the intellectual property of their respective authors. The photos featured will bear the copyright sign © in the captions, followed by the name of the photographer. .

~ Barista Uno

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