When beautiful beaches are made ugly by war

When beautiful beaches are made ugly by war

Beaches hold a strong attraction for many people, including the French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. In 1868 he wrote to his friend Frédéric Bazille from Étretat, a coastal town in northern France: “I pass my time in the open air on the beach when it is really heavy weather or when the boats go out fishing…” Beaches in times of war are something else, however. The following World War II photographs (with my annotations in bold italics) show the gallantry of the men who fought on the beaches of Normandy, Iwo Jima and Leyte. But they also serve as stark reminders of the horrors of war and man’s capacity to cause far greater destruction than Mother Nature.

Amphibious assault on Iwo Jima, mid-February 1945
Photo courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum

The tide of war is more awesome and fearsome than any tsunami that mankind has experienced. 

Out of the gaping mouths of Coast Guard and Navy Landing Craft, rose the great flow of invasion supplies to the blackened sands of Iwo Jima, a few hours after the Marines had wrested their foothold on the vital island. 1945.
Photo and caption courtesy of the US Coast Guard

War costs more money than is required to clean up all the world’s dirty beaches.

Invasion of Leyte, Philippines, October 20, 1944
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Nature uses only its naked power to wreak havoc. Man has an infinite array of weapons for doing the same. 

Normandy Invasion, Cherbourg, France, July 1944. Mine disposal by burning.
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

It is the worst of times when the beauty of seashells is replaced by the vileness of bombs, bullets and mines.

Invasion of Leyte, Philippines, 20 October 1944. Coast Guardsmen from an invasion transport remove an Army casualty from the flaming beach on Leyte Island as the weight of liberation strikes into the heart of the Philippines.
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

War can soak beaches with blood, sweat and the salt of tears.

German prisoners of war in a barbed-wire enclosure on “Utah” Beach, 6 June 1944
Photo and caption courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy

All wars dehumanise those who take part in them. Even the soldiers who survive a hellish beach somehow lose part of their humanity.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Can you imagine a seascape painting by Michelangelo?

Can you imagine a seascape painting by Michelangelo?

Wouldn’t it be great to see some marine art by Michelangelo? Alas, the man who is held to be one of the greatest artists of all time (pictured above in a portrait by his contemporary, Daniele da Volterra) did not paint seascapes. He channeled his artistic energy to religious and mythological subjects. Even his drawings depicted the human anatomy, not ships. No surprise there. Michelangelo was born in Caprese in Florence and lived variously in Bologna, Florence and Rome. He is not known to have spent any time near the sea and obviously felt no connection with it. The closest he got to creating marine art are the following details of larger paintings:

The Deluge 1508-09

Last Judgment (detail-7) 1537-41

Last Judgement, detail of the Boatman Charon 1536-41

It is probably just as well that Michelangelo chose to deal with the divine instead of the mundane. To borrow a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, sirs, than are dreamt of in your shipping world.” And what seascape could overshadow Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel?

Creation of Adam, fresco on Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo 

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Crewing and the foolish Filipino pride in numbers

Crewing and the foolish Filipino pride in numbers

I have never quite understood why Filipinos keep saying they are the top crew-supplying nation. The line is repeated so often by manning agents, journalists and academics that it has become a mantra. Those who say it do so with unconcealed pride — as if manning other nations’ fleets was a monumental achievement that every Filipino should celebrate. How foolish can they be?

First of all, quantity is never a measure of quality. If this was the case, Starbucks would be the best coffee in the world just because the company has some 30,000 stores around the globe. Many coffee connoisseurs would hotly dispute that.

The same principle applies to ship crewing. The mere fact that Filipino mariners have had a dominant presence on the world merchant fleet does not make them the best in the world. To assert that they are could be construed by other nationalities as arrogance.

The mere fact that Filipino mariners have had a dominant presence on the world merchant fleet does not make them the best in the world. To assert that they are could be construed by other nationalities as arrogance.

Treating numbers as a source of national pride can also be tricky. In 2016, a total of 442,820 Filipinos left the country to work on board merchant ships and offshore platforms. But not all were professional, bona fide seafarers. Of the total sea-based workers deployed, 95,696 (21.6%) were employed on passenger ships, mostly as hotel personnel (e.g., cooks, stewards and entertainers).

Moreover, Filipino seafarer deployment has been on the decline over the past two years. In 2017, the number was down by almost 15% to 378,072 from 442,820 in 2016. It is said to have slid further in 2018, although Philippine authorities, oddly enough, have yet to release statistics for the whole of last year.

Given the downward trend, what happens then to national pride? Filipinos might as well brag about the country being an archipelago composed of a staggering 7,641 islands (source: CIA World Factbook). At least, barring some catastrophic climate change, the number of islands won’t go down.

ADDENDUM (27th November 2019): One individual who read this piece accused me on social media of hating Filipinos. Lest others also misinterpret this article, I want to emphasise that it points out the foolishness of pride in numbers, NOT pride in Filipino seafarers. It is actually a call for humility. Those who have been following the blog know that I have been championing the rights and welfare of seafarers, especially Filipino seafarers.

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Scottish old salt plays songs of the sea with his camera

Scottish old salt plays songs of the sea with his camera

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

~ John Masefield, ‘Sea Fever’

Like the speaker in John Masefield’s famous poem, Eugene Rutter (pictured above) has found the “call of the running tide” impossible to resist. This native of Fraserburgh, a fishing town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, went to sea at the age of 16. All told, he has spent 54 years working on boats, 40 of them as a skipper.

The sea, however, is not Rutter’s only passion. He took up photography six years ago and has been clicking away ever since. “My idea of photography,” he says, “is that it lets you see things differently and makes you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise.” This honest, no-frills approach to the art, coupled with a genuine love for the nautical life, gives his sea-themed photographs a certain kind of freshness and poetic charm.

Reflections     © Eugene Rutter

Boat     © Eugene Rutter

Ullapool Harbour     © Eugene Rutter

Rattray Head Lighthouse     © Eugene Rutter

[untitled]     © Eugene Rutter

Catching the Buoy     © Eugene Rutter   

At the Winch     © Eugene Rutter

Bonny Night     © Eugene Rutter

The Gin and Black Pudding Boat     © Eugene Rutter

Signal Tower, Arbroath     © Eugene Rutter

~Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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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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