A reply to Filipinos who defend maritime cadet slavery

A reply to Filipinos who defend maritime cadet slavery

How dumb and foolish can some people be? The use of maritime cadets as unpaid labour by Philippine manning agencies is a clear case of exploitation. I would even call it a form of modern-day slavery. Yet, many Filipinos think it is perfectly normal. The arguments they make to justify this shameful practice are as nonsensical as the drawing of a servant (pictured above) by the 19th-century English painter and writer, Edward Lear.

Some try to dismiss the whole issue by saying It is the cadets’ choice to serve as gofers for the crewing companies. Such a cavalier attitude shows a lack of concern and empathy. The truth is that these cadets (a.k.a. “utility”, maritime flunkeys) are under a great deal of pressure. They have to board an ocean-going vessel on their fourth and last year in college to meet the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship required for graduation.

Some try to dismiss the whole issue by saying it is the cadets’ choice to serve as gofers for the crewing companies. Such a cavalier attitude shows a lack of concern and empathy.

Never mind the ignominy of being ordered by the company secretary to go out and buy pizza for the staff. Never mind waiting for months (more than a year in some cases) before getting to finally sail. It is a better option than foregoing with the all-important diploma — and ending up, as many cadets do, working in Manila as waiters, security guards and janitors.

The cadets can choose another path. But it is longer and no less painful, as anyone who has read the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) knows. In lieu of the 12 months of apprenticeship, the aspiring ship officer can join a vessel as a rating (e.g. able seaman, oiler or wiper). The catch is that he or she will have to undergo seagoing service for at least 36 months. And how many inexperienced cadets would be lucky enough to get hired in the first place?

Others try to rationalise the serve-for-sail practice by invoking the need to instill discipline in future ship officers. One manning CEO once told me that it was necessary to “break in” the cadets. The phrase he used was absurdly colourful. It reminded me of a new pair of shoes being tried out and softened with use by its owner.

This is yet another example of how seafarers have been commodified in the 21st century. Those who work at sea and cadets who aspire to become ship officers are like cans of Campbell’s Soup on a supermarket shelf. The people who have power over them feel that they can use them however they like. Given the decadent culture in Manila’s manning sector, should anyone be surprised?

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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A great Chinese exercise for everyone, on land or at sea

A great Chinese exercise for everyone, on land or at sea

Several years ago, my interest in Chinese philosophy and healing led me to pingshuai, a simple hand-swinging exercise (pictured above being demonstrated by Yao Huai-Ying on the far left). This basic form of qigong was developed by Master Lee Feng-San Sifu of the Meimen Qigong Culture Center in Taipei. It is designed to improve the circulation of qi or vital life force, which is the central underlying principle in Chinese traditional medicine and martial arts.

Pingshuai is easy to learn; does not require any equipment; can be performed indoors or outdoors by young and old alike; and takes as little as 10 minutes. For maximum benefit, the exercise should be performed daily. There are a few important things to keep in mind, as I have found out, when doing any qigong exercise:

• wear comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes (barefoot is okay)

• wait for one hour after a meal and 30 minutes after a snack before doing the exercise

• focus on what you’re doing (don’t watch television or use your smartphone during the exercise)

• synchronise breathing and body movement

Practitioners of pingshuai swear by its many health benefits. One does not have to take their word for it. The best way is to try it. As the French physician and Enlightenment philosopher, Julien Offray de La Mettrie, said: “Let us then take in our hands the staff of experience… To be blind and to think that one can do without this staff is the worst kind of blindness.” (L’Homme Machine, 1748

Disclaimer: I have no connection with the Meimen Qigong Culture Center in Taipei or any wellness centre for that matter. I am sharing the foregoing information about pingshuai in the hope that it would benefit the readers of Marine Café Blog. Always seek the advice of a doctor before starting any qigong regimen, especially when you have any medical condition.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Sign of the times: captains criminalised for sea rescues

Sign of the times: captains criminalised for sea rescues

The noble tradition of saving lives at sea, which British engraver Henry Edward Dawe depicted in his 1832 print They’re Saved! They’re Saved! (pictured above), is under attack. This year, two German captains of rescue vessels operating under the umbrella of Sea-Watch were thrust into the limelight. They were arrested by Italian authorities, accused of breaking Italy’s laws against illegal migration and aiding human traffickers.

Pia KIemp

Captain of rescue vessel Iuventa. Boat detained in August 2017 after entering Italy’s island port of Lampedusa. Klemp is accused of aiding illegal migration and could face up to 20 years in prison plus “horrendous fines”. Read more about her case herePhoto credit: Ruben Neugebauer / Sea-Watch.org (shared under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Carola Rackete

Captain of rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3. Arrested on 29th June 2019 for helping illegal migrants. Held for several days after the ship with 40 rescued migrants hit an Italian police speedboat whilst entering the port of Lampedusa. Freed from house arrest by an Italian court and returned to Germany. Read about her release here. Photo credit: Paul Lovis Wagner / Sea-Watch.org (shared under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

That both captains have been hailed as heroes by some and condemned as criminals by others is in itself telling. It shows how deeply divided Europeans are on the migrant issue. Just as important, it brings to the fore the conflict between national interests and universal human values.

Alessandra Vella, the Italian judge who ordered Carola Rackete’s release, said the captain did not break the law and was carrying her duty to protect life. Her ruling was in complete consonance with international law and maritime tradition. However, it has not softened Italy’s stand on migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean sea into Europe from North Africa. Refugee boats and rescue vessels are still barred from entering Italian territory.

Can the Italians be blamed? The country has been flooded with illegal migrants. Frustration and anger are swelling over the European Union’s failure to work out a unified policy that would stem the tide. Anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise, not only in Italy but in a few other EU countries. Italy’s populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has become its rabid voice.

A maritime tradition subverted

These are sad times indeed. Rescuing people at sea who are in distress or face imminent death is a time-honoured tradition in the maritime world. It is a moral duty sailors are bound to uphold even during times of war. It matters not if the person needing help is an enemy. All human lives are precious.

Canadian frigate SWANSEA’s seaboat alongside as U-boat survivors are helped out of the sea and on board the frigate, 1944 (left). One of the U-boat survivors, still dazed, rests on the deck as his sea soaked clothes are stripped off by men of the SWANSEA (right). Photos and captions courtesy of the Imperial War Museums, UK

Those who argue that the actions of Captains Klemp and Rackete have encouraged more illegal migration and aided the Libyan human traffickers are missing one important point. The flood of migrants is a direct result of the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya which led to the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the subsequent chaos in that country. The death of thousands in the Mediterranean sea is a European-made catastrophe. The problem won’t be lessened by criminalising ship captains who seek to protect lives.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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The joy of childhood and the sea celebrated in art

The joy of childhood and the sea celebrated in art

Les enfants n’ont ni passé ni avenir, et, ce qui ne nous arrive guère, ils jouissent du présent. (Children have neither past nor future, and, that which hardly happens to us, they rejoice in the present.)

~ Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères (1885)

What has happened to childhood? Many of today’s urban children spend their weekends inside shopping malls or playing video games at home, sometimes for hours on end. Their world has literally shrunk. They should be outdoors — romping about the gardens, flying kites and paper planes, biking along grassy paths, or playing at the beach. The latter is an unforgettable experience for any child and is joyfully depicted in the following paintings.

Corriendo por la playa (Running along the beach), 1908
Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish, 1863–1923)

With neither past nor future to encumber it, childhood is unfettered and free-flowing like the water and sunlight in Joaquín Sorolla’s 1903 painting. No other artist perhaps could have depicted children on the beach with such joyful iridescence. As William E. B. Starkweather, an American painter and writer, wrote in his 1909 essay, ‘Joaquín Sorolla: The Man and his Work’:

The art of Sorolla is an art of joy, of sunshine, of splendid youth. He does not consider for a moment failure or distress, old age or death. It is an art somewhat savage, somewhat pagan; but it is an art beautifully vigorous, admirably robust.

En Flok Drenge ude i det solglitrende Vand (A bunch of boys out in the sunlit water), 1892
Peder Severin Krøyer (Danish, 1851–1909)

Young boys gambol and frolick in the sunlit sea, unburdened by worldly cares. Peder Krøyer’s painting is a hymn to childhood and its unremorseful sense of freedom.

Les petits goélands (Small seagulls), date unknown
Virginie Demont-Breton (French, 1859–1935)

Virginie Demont-Breton’s painting is fittingly entitled Les petits goélands. The three young boys are nestled together in a mound of sand like baby seagulls. The image is suggestive of the sea as the Great Mother providing for both birds and humans.

Kinderen der zee (Children of the sea), 1872
Jozef Israëls (Dutch, 1824–1911)

It is a kind of tragedy that the children of today no longer find pleasure in simple toys. The charm of a miniature, home-made sailboat has given way to the dazzling lights and spectacular sounds of a computer game.

Beach Scene with Lavender Sky, circa 1920
Edward Henry Potthast (American, 1857–1927)

Children in brightly coloured clothes enliven what would otherwise be a humdrum seascape. Are children not like flowers that add colour to life? A world without their bright smiles would be a dreary landscape indeed.

Two Boys Watching Schooners, 1880
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

Children soon grow up and grow old. Perchance they will remember that day on the beach with the smell of saltwater and the warm sand under their feet, and declare together with the great British Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore:

LIKE the meeting of the seagulls and the waves we meet and come near. The seagulls fly off, the waves roll away and we depart. (Verse 54, Stray Birds,1919)

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Wanted: a new code of conduct for seafarers

Wanted: a new code of conduct for seafarers

This is a new version of an article originally published in Marine Café Blog on 27th February 2015. I have retained much of the original. ~ BU

The shipping industry talks incessantly of seafarers’ rights. The maritime unions and charities have made a fetish of it. How often does one hear about the duties of merchant mariners and the values they need to cultivate?

There ought to be a universal code of conduct for seafarers. I am not referring to a set of dos and don’ts as spelled out, for example, in ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, or in company manuals. Such rules are imposed from outside by higher-ups. They are rules, not beliefs.

By a code for seafarers, I mean one that they would freely abide by and make part of their whole being. The credo would lay down a path to self-realisation and a way of life similar to the Bushido of the samurai warriors (shown above in Felice Beato’s 1863 cropped photograph, Portrait of the Satsuma Clan Envoys).

The credo would lay down a path to self-realisation and a way of life similar to the Bushido of the samurai warriors.

I am for protecting the rights of those who toil at sea. Even so, I am appalled at the many cases of seafarers whose actions besmirch the merchant marine profession. Consider the seafarer who files for disability benefits, only to work again after being declared permanently disabled and awarded a huge sum.

Or the seafarer who pays to secure a training certificate without undergoing any real training; who acts unfairly toward other seamen; who is disloyal to his spouse whilst overseas; who squanders money on booze; who, in various other ways, brings dishonour to himself and his profession.

The code that I speak of could be adopted by maritime schools, seafarers’ unions and professional organisations. There’s just one problem. In the crassly commercial world of shipping, where everyone is chasing after money, how many will spare a thought for codes of conduct and codes of honour?

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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