Beauty and terror: ocean waves in Japanese art

Beauty and terror: ocean waves in Japanese art

Hokusai‘s Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also called The Great Wave, (pictured above) does more than delight the eye. It is an eloquent expression of the traditional Japanese attitude towards the sea as something to be admired and feared at the same time. The woodblock print (circa 1830–1832) shows three fishing boats as a giant wave rises ominously, its majestic power enhanced by a diminutive Mount Fuji in the distance. The fingers of the breaking wave are rendered in a stylized manner. Even so, it is faithful to reality as the following two comparative images illustrate (click for a larger view):

The first picture above is a detail of Hokusai’s wave; the second, a close-up photograph of a surf. The similarities are striking. Clearly, Hokusai was very familiar with the sea and how it behaves. One could even say that he had an intuitive knowledge of fluid dynamics. But so much for realism. The main appeal of Under the Wave off Kanagawa and like works by other Japanese artists lies in their power to stir the imagination and evoke certain emotions.

Rough Waves, ca. 1704–9
Two-panel folding screen; ink, color, and gold leaf on paper
Ogata Korin (Japanese, 1658–1716) / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The waves in Ogata Korin’s painting are absolutely menacing. They conjure up the image of dragons with sharp claws or ghostly apparitions in a surreal landscape. Sailors and others who have experienced a storm at sea would feel connected to this artwork.

Waves and Moon, early 19th century
Ink on silk; mounted as a hanging scroll
Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856) /  Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Japanese have a remarkable penchant for beauty. They have even made viewing cherry blossoms in full bloom (hanami) a national custom. As much as they fear and respect the power of the sea, they also admire its beauty. This mindset finds expression in Yamamoto Baiitsu’s lyrical work, which shows a pale moon behind a troupe of dancing waves.

Tsunami, 1909
Woodblock print
Kamisaka Sekka (1866–1942) / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Kamisaka Sekka’s bold depiction of a towering wave is super-minimalist. It shows only the wave’s outline set against a dark grey background with a partly hidden full moon rendered in a lighter shade of grey. Despite its simplicity, the print forcefully suggests the tsunami’s dual aspect of beauty and terror.

Crane and Wave, mid-1830s
Woodblock print
Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797–1858) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

The crane flying above the water seems to mimic the motion of the ocean wave. The two are one. This sense of harmony with nature imbues much of traditional Japanese marine art with a special charm. It is what gives it soul.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Disturbing silence on five serious maritime issues

Disturbing silence on five serious maritime issues

The international maritime community has strong vocal chords. It can create quite a noise when it wants to, as evidenced by the current blabber and bluster about wellness training for seafarers. Ironically, the folks who are voluble on such faddish issues are silent on other matters. I am reminded of the three proverbial monkeys — seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil. The following are five important issues about which those who wield some power and influence — not least of all, the unions and the maritime press — cannot feign ignorance.

Restricted access to the STCW Convention

I will say it for the nth time. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is denying seafarers ready access to the full text of the very document that governs their profession: the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). The STCW 2017 edition (419 pages in PDF format) will cost seafarers a whopping £50. Sorry, no free online access to the STCW and other IMO conventions.

The maritime training overload

The mountain of training requirements continues to grow higher, making  seafaring more regulated than the medical and engineering professions. It is costing seafaers time and money. But who gives a hoot? Certainly, not the unions or the maritime charities.

The Day of the Seafarer anomaly

There’s one question that those who love to mouth slogans and clichés on the “Day of the Seafarer” never ask. Why is the celebration of this annual event spearheaded by the IMO and not by the International Labour Organization (ILO)? The question should matter a lot to anyone who wants to see sincere and enlightened governance from the powers that be.

IMO’s institutional overreach and power-tripping

The IMO has been dipping its hands in areas that are outside its original mandate. It started the “Day of the Seafarer” celebration in 2010, thus hijacking an institutional concern that properly belongs to the International Labour Organization (ILO). This overreach, which signifies a hunger for power on the part of IMO officials, is once again evident in the organisation’s campaign to promote gender equality.

Use of maritime cadets as slave labour

This problem may be specific to the Philippines and Filipino cadets. However, it is an international issue as it involves foreign shipping companies and associations which have cadetship programmes in selected maritime academies. The silence of these shipowners on the exploitation of the cadets makes them accessories to the crime.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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10 weird facts about Philippine ship manning

10 weird facts about Philippine ship manning

“Never let yourself be diverted,” the famous British mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell, said in a 1959 BBC interview, “either by what you wish to believe, or what you think could have beneficent social effects if it were believed; but look only and solely at what are the facts.” His sage advice is worth keeping in mind when it comes to the quirky world of Philippine ship manning. Here are 10 facts that may surprise foreigners and even Filipinos:

1

Many Filipinos take pride in the Manila-Acapulco Spanish galleon trade which ran for 250 years from 1565 to 1815 — overlooking the fact that their forebears who worked on board the galleons were conscripted labour. Shipboard conditions were so bad that many of the Filipino crew members jumped ship in Mexico.

2

The dictator Ferdinand Marcos set off the national obsession with manning in 1974, when he decreed the establishment of the National Seamen Board. The latter was merged with the Overseas Employment Development Board in 1982 to become the present-day Philippine Overseas Employment Adminstration.

3

The Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) for seafarers is a relic from the Marcos era. It was originally conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Presidential Center for Strategic Studies in the 1970s and early 1980s under the same name. The purported aim was to make government officials who travel abroad “ambassadors of goodwill”.

4

Enrollment in Philippine maritime schools has been dwindling despite the country’s continued obsession with manning. From 161,229 in school year 2014-2015, it dropped to 156,087 (SY2015-2016) and further to 119,387 in SY2016-2017 and 82,205 in SY2017-2018.

5

A great number of maritime students are unable to graduate, and some end up working in Manila as waiters, security guards and janitors. The reason: they cannot board an ocean-going vessel for the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship required for graduation.

6

Statistics for the deployment of Filipino seafarers are bloated by the inclusion of hotel personnel on passenger ships — e.g., waiters, stewards, entertainers and casino dealers. In 2016, for example, the POEA reported 442,820 sea-based workers deployed. Of this figure, 95,696 worked on board passenger ships, or 21.6% of the total.

7

Two well-known maritime unions openly use cadets as unpaid labour (office clerks, messengers, cooks, etc.) for indefinite periods of time. Like the manning agencies, they consider it normal practice.

8

A significant portion of the cash remittances from Filipino seafarers (a total of US$6.14 biillion in 2018) goes to the pockets of unscrupulous manning agents. The standard practice is to shave off one peso or more from the dollar-to-peso exchange rate. This means that seamen’s families get less than they should.

9

Philippine manning agents who bareboat charter foreign-owned ships have no real control over them, which makes the bareboat charter a sham. They don’t even know where the vessels, which are temporarily registered under the Philippine flag, are located at any given time.

10

The Filipino Shipowners Association is still alive and kicking despite the fact that the country has no real ocean-going fleet to speak of. Out of the 116 vessels totalling 3.82 million deadweight registered under the national flag in 2017, only one or two totalling 8,073 dwt were beneficially owned by Filipinos. The rest were foreign-owned tonnage under bareboat charter to local companies.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Mediterranean migrants: quotes from their life-savers

Mediterranean migrants: quotes from their life-savers

French artist Alfred Guillou depicted the horror of being shipwrecked and drowning at sea in his heart-wrenching 1892 painting, Adieu! (pictured above). Today, life is imitating art as people continue to flee from Libya to seek asylum in Europe. Thousands have died on the perilous journey. Many more would have died if not for the few NGOs which operate rescue vessels in the central Mediterranean.

Sadly, those who try to save the migrants are not always seen in a positive light. They are villified, accused of aiding human traffickers and dismissed as a bunch of social activists. The following quotes cast light on what drives these life-savers and the scenes of human suffering they have to endure.

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Europe didn’t give us a port of safety so we had to bob up and down in international waters for several days with that boy in the freezer, with his mother onboard, and you were really wondering what you are going to tell that woman whose child is in your freezer about the Nobel peace prize-winning European Union.

~ Pia Klemp, captain of rescue ship Iuventa, as quoted by The Guardian newspaper

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I have white skin, I was born in a rich country, I have the right passport, I was allowed to attend three universities, and I graduated at the age of 23. I feel a moral obligation to help those people who did not have the foundations that I did.

~ Carola Rackete, Sea-Watch captain, as quoted by the Deutsche Welle newspaper

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Instead of assisting people in need, Europe prefers to support the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, which continuously causes the deaths of many people with their brutal interference, including the illegal abduction of displaced and fleeing persons back to Libya. The situation we currently find ourselves in is perverse. It could not be further away from the humanitarian principles we believed the European community to be based upon.

~ Michael Schwickart, Head of Fundraising / Crewmember, Sea-Watch

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My strongest memory from the Aquarius was the day I hugged a tiny baby – just a few weeks old – as his mother boarded the boat. His skin was all raw from scabies. Wrapped in his blanket, he was so light that he seemed not to weigh anything.

~ Viviana, lifeguard aboard the Aquarius, from SOS Mediterranee Log entry #79

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We don’t want to hear the praise of those who consider us heroes. Because it shouldn’t happen, because the world shouldn’t need such heroes.

~ Edouard, SAR-Team member aboard the Aquarius, from SOS Mediterranee Log entry #83 (translated from German by Anna Kallage)

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People, including underage minors, have described being tortured with electric shocks, beaten with guns and sticks, or burned with melted plastic. They tell me how they still feel the pain from their wounds and scars sustained during their time in Libya.

~ Dr Luca Pigozzi, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical doctor on board the Ocean Viking

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Saving lives is non negotiable. Saving lives is what we do, what we will continue to fight for, and what we urge you to defend. Saving lives is indeed a fundamental part of the Global Compact. Whether states choose to endorse this compact or not, they are bound by national, regional, and international law. This compact is based on existing responsibilities, that prohibit treating people like commodities, wherever they are. Regardless of why people left their place of origin, they need protection from violence and exploitation.

~ Dr Joanne LiuInternational President, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) 

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The accusation that humanitarian rescuers are a pull factor for migrants is akin to saying that “NGOs working in a refugee camp are the reason for refugees.”

~ Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), DEFENDING HUMANITY AT SEA

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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IMO raking it in from STCW and other publications

IMO raking it in from STCW and other publications

In contrast to the ILO’s policy, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) does not provide free online access to the full texts of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and other IMO conventions. How ironic! The IMO wants seafarers to conform to the STCW standards and follow other IMO regulations. Yet, it is depriving them of ready access to the very information that would help them do so.

I had always thought that the STCW and other publications served as IMO’s golden goose. However, I never realised how much money the goose generated until I read the UN agency’s Financial Report and Audited Financial Statements for the Year Ended 31 December 2018. It was an eye-opener, to say the least.

Publication sales actually rank no.1 in the IMO’s commercial “revenue streams”. In 2018 they totalled £13.91 million (US$16.89 million) compared with £9.98 million (US$12.12 million) — or a 39% jump. The increase is attributed to the sale of new editions of the GMDSS Manual (2017 edition) and STCW (2017 edition). The report points out that “a high proportion of the Organization’s sales are made through distributors rather than directly to the end user.” Even so, the IMO is clearly raking it in.

Source: IMO financial statements for 2018

I can understand that the print editions of IMO publications have to be paid for by customers. The poor folks at IMO London have to recover the cost of printing, handling and delivery. Perhaps one can even forgive them for selling the electronic versions. But £50 for a digital copy of the 2017 edition of STCW (including the 2010 Manila amendments)? This is plain highway robbery.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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