How seafarers contribute to their own exploitation

How seafarers contribute to their own exploitation

It sounds ironic, but many Third World seafarers make themselves vulnerable to exploitation because of their mindset and outlook. This does not justify, of course, the actions of those who abuse them. However, there are certain attitudes that could turn a seafarer into a ‘patsy’ — a term defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a person who is easily taken advantage of, especially by being cheated or blamed for something.” The following are five such attitudes.

Desperation to go to sea

Some are so desperate to sail that they are willing to do anything to get a shipboard placement. Thus, cadets will suffer the indignity of serving as maritime flunkeys (unpaid office workers or domestic servants) for manning agencies and unions. Some seafarers will accede to demands for money from crewing managers. Others may even try to obtain fake certificates to get a job.

Fear of being sent home and getting blacklisted

Blacklisting of seafarers who report abuses and malpractices to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is still common practice. As a result, a ship’s crew may keep silent on serious problems on board (e.g., double payrolling) for fear of retaliation from the master or from their manning agency .

Blind obedience to foreign ship officers

Third World seafarers can be super subservient to foreign ship officers. This can have fatal consequences as happened in the case of the chemical tanker Bow Mariner, which exploded and sank in the Atlantic Ocean on 28th February 2004. The U.S. Coast Guard investigation report on the incident said about the Filipino crew: “This (Filipinos’) lack of technical knowledge and fear of the senior officers explains why the crew did not question the master’s unsafe order to open all of the empty tanks; they either did not know about the danger or were not inclined to question the master’s order… Able Seaman Ronguillo stated that orders from the Greeks were like ‘words from God’.”

Lack of self-confidence

For seafarers, the lack of self-confidence can be as bad as arrogance. A manning executive in Manila once said that he was tired of hearing Filipino seafarers say during a job interview: “I just come from a poor family”. The statement may be intended to solicit sympathy, but it does nothing to boost one’s self-image. How can seafarers who are not sure of themselves fight for their rights?

Believing that a situation cannot be changed or that it is ‘normal’

It’s true that life is unfair. It is also true that some things cannot be changed. However, it does not help seafarers to believe that there is little or nothing they can do to change a bad situation. Such a mindset leads to the perpetuation of malpractices. Many Filipino seafarers, for example, just grin and bear it when dishonest manning agents short-change them on their remittances. To make matters worse, the unions have failed to condemn this decades-old forex scam.

A wrong mindset can be as enslaving as opioid medication. Time for seafarers to break the chains. To borrow the words of Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley in his ‘Redemption Song’:

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds.

Click here to download this free guide:


~ Barista Uno

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Marvellous American art inspired by the Mississippi River

Marvellous American art inspired by the Mississippi River

Marvellous American art inspired by the Mississippi River

The United States Geological Survey ranks the Mississippi River fifth amongst the world’s longest rivers and the second longest in North America. From its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota through the center of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico, its waters flow 2,340 miles (3,766 kms). But more significantly, the Mississippi River brims with history and culture. The following works of art are but a small collection but they tell a story about the great Mississippi. The three quotes are from Mark Twain’s 1883 memoir, Life on the Mississippi’.

It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable.

~ Mark Twain

View on the Mississippi Fifty–Seven Miles Below St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, 1858)
Ferdinand Richardt (American, 1819–1895)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (from the The White House art collection)

View on Lake St. Croix, Upper Mississippi, 1835-1836
George Catlin (American, 1796–1872)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Maiden rock: Mississippi River, between 1850 and 1910
Lithographed and published by Currier & Ives (American, active New York, 1857–1907)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Your true pilot cares nothing about anything on earth but the river, and his pride in his occupation surpasses the pride of kings.

~ Mark Twain

Mississippi Boatman, 1850
George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Midnight Race on the Mississippi, 1860
Frances Flora Bond Palmer (English-born American, 1812–1876)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

“Rounding a Bend” on the Mississippi — The Parting Salute, 1866
Frances Flora Bond Palmer (English-born American, 1812–1876}
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice.

~ Mark Twain

Brilliant naval victory on the Mississippi River, near Fort Wright, May 10th 1862, 1862
Lithographed and published by Currier & Ives (American, active New York, 1857–1907)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Mississippi Noah, 1934
John Steuart Curry (American, 1897–1946)
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Upper Mississippi (Near Lansing, Iowa), no date
Robert Hinshelwood (Scottish-born American, 1812–1885)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Majestic Bluffs, 1883
Illustration from Mark Twain’s ‘Life on the Mississippi’ (1883 edition)

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‘Life on the Mississippi’ by Mark Twain

A memoir of the steamboat era on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War

~ Barista Uno

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Has the term ‘seaman’ been scuttled?

Has the term ‘seaman’ been scuttled?

Like the coronavirus, language has a way of mutating. New words and phrases emerge over time even as old ones are pushed aside, if not scuttled. A good example of the latter is the term ‘seaman’.

It’s the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ instead of ‘Day of the Seaman’. And it’s ‘International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (not Seamen) Convention’. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and almost everyone else seem to have deep-sixed the term ‘seaman’ in favour of ‘seafarer’.

Are they wrong to do so? Probably not, but some old salts — those who spent years cutting their teeth on navigation and know what life at sea is really like — will tell you that the two words are not the same. Shakespeare was wrong; a rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet. (more…)

Time and tide: Powerful quotes and art to ponder on

Time and tide: Powerful quotes and art to ponder on

What commodity could be more precious than time? A person can amass wealth if he is smart enough like Microsoft kingpin Bill Gates or Chinese billionaire Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group. But who can accumulate time? There is only so much of it allotted to every human being. Ironically, many fritter away their time posting selfies on social media, watching inane TV shows, or engaging in pointless political debate. I trust that the following quotes, together with some artworks, will serve as food for thought about the value and nature of time and about life itself.

As we speak cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believing as little as possible in the morrow. ~ Horace, from Odes (c. 23 BC and 13 BC)

Time and tide will wait for no man, saith the adage. But all men have to wait for time and tide. ~ Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–1844)

The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter — and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing

~ Omar Khayyam, from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1868 edition, translated by Edward FitzGerald)

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls (1879).

Time and Tide, c. 1873
Alfred Thompson Bricher (American, 1837–1908)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You talk of the scythe of Time, and the tooth of Time: I tell you, Time is scytheless and toothless; it is we who gnaw like the worm — we who smite like the scythe. It is ourselves who abolish — ourselves who consume: we are the mildew, and the flame. ~ John Ruskin, from A Joy for Ever, lecture II, section 74 (1857)

And is not time even as love is, undivided and paceless?
But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let to-day embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.

~ Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet (1923)

…time is a fluid condition which has no existence except in the momentary avatars of individual people. There is no such thing as was—only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow. ~ William Faulkner, from The Paris Review interview (1956)

The present moment contains past and future.
The secret of transformation,
is in the way we handle this very moment.

~ Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind (2006)

The Breaking Waves, Tide of September 1901, 1901
Auguste Louis Lepère (French, 1849–1918)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Yet Time, who changes all, had altered him
In soul and aspect as in age; years steal
Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb;
And life’s enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.

~ Lord Byron, from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III (1816)

The touch of time does more than the club of Hercules. ~ James Branch Cabell, from The Way of Ecben (1929)

Truth was the only daughter of Time. ~ Leonardo da Vinci, from The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (1938)

Now, if the passions had no hold on us, a week and a hundred years would amount to the same. ~ Blaise Pascal, from Pensées (1669)

And grief shall endure not for ever, I know.
As things that are not shall these things be;
We shall live through seasons of sun and of snow,
And none be grievous as this to me.
We shall hear, as one in a trance that hears,
The sound of time, the rhyme of the years;
Wrecked hope and passionate pain will grow
As tender things of a spring-tide sea.

~ Algernon Charles Swinburne, from Poems and Ballads, ‘TheTriumph ofTime‘ (1866)

Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate,
For, lo! my own shall come to me.

I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.

John Burroughs, from Waiting (1863)

Summer evening at the South beach, Skagen. Anna Ancher and Marie Kroyer, 1893
Peder Severin Kroyer (Danish, 1851–1909)
Courtesy of the Google Art Project

Evening Tide, California, no date
William Ritschel (American, 1864–1949)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

~ Barista Uno

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Where are you in the maritime food chain?

Where are you in the maritime food chain?

I first learned about the food chain in grade school. What fascinated me then wasn’t so much the fact that the species at the top of the link fed on those below them. It was the idea of interconnectivity and interdependence in the natural world. Many years later, as a shipping and ports journalist, I would discover a more fascinating kind of food chain, one which continues to intrigue me to this day. (more…)