35 things that make life more difficult for seafarers

35 things that make life more difficult for seafarers

Life is hard enough for seafarers without other people making it harder. Alas, there is no shortage of individuals, often including one’s kith and kin, who would take advantage of this group of workers. Ironically, some institutions and regulations are the very source of the exploitation and the suffering. The following is a list of things many seafarers have to put up with as they struggle to build a better future for themselves and their families.

1   Unending mandatory training and certification

2   Refusal of the International Maritime Organization to provide free access to the full texts of the STCW and other IMO conventions

3   High cost of training courses

4   Substandard or unscrupulous training centres

  Unholy alliance between training centres and crewing managers

  Instructors who can’t speak proper English

7   Too few shipboard apprecentice slots

 The flunkey system (serving as unpaid office workers/servants for manning agencies and seafarer unions)

9   Manning agents who manipulate the foreign exchange rate to steal from seafarers’ remittances 

10 Crewing managers who ask for money or gifts

11 Favouritism in the hiring of crews

12 Red tape in the maritime bureaucracy

13 Corrupt government employees

14 Fixers

15 Tyrannical ship captains

16 Cultural differences/friction among multinational crews

17 Sexual abuse/gender discrimination on board

18 Performing cargo handling jobs that should be done by shoreside personnel

19 Too much paperwork for ship officers

20 Lack of proper safety appliances on board

21 Shipboard accidents

22 Inadequate food and accommodations on board

23 Poor or no wifi connection at sea

24 Restrictions on shore leave

25 Non-payment or delayed release of wages and overtime pay

26 Depression at sea

27 Difficulty of securing health or disability benefits

28 Greedy maritime lawyers

29 Loan sharks

30 Unions that collect membership dues without giving tangible benefits to seafarers

31 Families who squander money sent home by the seafarer

32 Relatives who ask for money

33 A cheating wife (or husband)

34 Women who are just after one’s money

35 Loss of friends and the respect of society when a seafarer has become impoverished

Dancing sailors, c.1918, by Charles Demuth (American, 1883–1935) 

~ Barista Uno

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Old men and the sea: an essay in pictures and words

Old men and the sea: an essay in pictures and words

Old men and the sea: an essay in pictures and words

Old sailors and old fishermen always fascinate me. The former are often referred to as “sea dogs” or lobos de mar in Spanish. Sailor or fisherman, the appellation is entirely appropriate. These men are hardy spirits who cut their teeth on boats and spent many years at sea. They can tell if a storm is coming just by looking at the clouds, checking the wind direction, and feeling the air. They know the sea as a man knows the contours of his lover’s body. Past the prime of their lives, they still hear the siren call of the ocean. Their weathered faces are like old books filled with tales of adventures and mishaps, of loves won and loves lost. They have what I would call “character”.

The Skipper on the Oyster Barge, Mobile Bay. Location: Bayou La Batre, Alabama, 1911
Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine (Amercian, 1874-1940)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Old sailor, 2008
Photo by Groovenick (David Guralnick) via Flickr
Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

‘To see! to see! — this is the craving of the sailor, as of the rest of blind humanity. To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence.’ 

— Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea

Niendorf fishermen at the beginning of the 20th century, about 1920
Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Captain Edward John Smith of the RMS Titanic
Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

‘What manner of man would still be working at sea in the twilight of his years? He would have to be tough, physically and emotionally, and be free from dementia. He would have to genuinely love the sea and the nautical life. Seafaring would have to be in his blood.’

— Barista Uno, Reflections on old salts and a 99-year-old photograph

John Stocks and Jake Brunton two fishermen Cullercoats, circa 1930
Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Newcastle Libraries, UK

Dutch Sea Captain, between circa 1948 and circa 1955
Photo by George Rodger (British, 1908–1995)
Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

‘Work almost always has a double aspect: it is a bondage, a wearisome drudgery; but it is also a source of interest, a steadying element, a factor that helps to integrate the worker with society. Retirement may be looked upon either as a prolonged holiday or as a rejection, a being thrown on to the scrap-heap.’

— Simone de Beauvoir, The Coming of Age

~ Barista Uno

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A quick journey to Venice through art and poetry

A quick journey to Venice through art and poetry

A quick journey to Venice through art and poetry

Who would not want to journey to Venice, the city beloved by famous artists and ordinary tourists alike? The English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, summed up its appeal in his poem ‘Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation’: “Its temples and its palaces did seem / Like fabrics of enchantment piled to Heaven.” Alas, not everyone has the means or the opportunity to visit the place. But no worries, the following artworks and poems will transport you blissfully to beautiful Venice.

Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute, circa 1835
Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, London 1775–1851)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking Southeast, with the Campo della Carità to the Right, 1730s
Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) (Italian, 1697–1768)
Courtest of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Doge’s Palace (Le Palais ducal), 1908
Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

White swan of cities, slumbering in thy nest
So wonderfully built among the reeds
Of the lagoon, that fences thee and feeds,
As sayeth thy old historian and thy guest!
White water-lily, cradled and caressed
By ocean streams, and from the silt and weeds
Lifting thy golden filaments and seeds,
Thy sun-illumined spires, thy crown and crest!
White phantom city, whose untrodden streets
Are rivers, and whose pavements are the shifting
Shadows of palaces and strips of sky;
I wait to see thee vanish like the fleets
Seen in mirage, or towers of cloud uplifting
In air their unsubstantial masonry.

View of Venice, undated
G. Saetta (Italian, 1800–1899)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Gondolas, Grand Canal, Venice, undated
Robert Frederick Blum (American, 1857–1903)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Venedig bei Mondschein (Venice by Moonlight), 1861
Eduard Schleich the Elder (German, 1812–1874)
Courtesy of Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Painting Collections)
Licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) 

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage [I stood in Venice]

Lord Byron (1788–1824)

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the wingéd Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers:
And such she was–her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers:
In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

In Venice Tasso’s echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone–but Beauty still is here;
States fall, arts fade–but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!



Planning to visit Venice?

Download this small but informative guide. Click here.

~ Barista Uno

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18 great quotes about family for toilers of the sea

18 great quotes about family for toilers of the sea

Most men and women who work at sea, I suppose, eventually get used to being away from home. But sometimes the loneliness can be excruciating as in the case of seafarers who have been stranded amid the coronavirus pandemic. In such dire situations, it is the thought of being reunited with one’s family that can serve as a fountain of hope.

The following quotes deal with the family as an institution and with married life and parenting.  I trust that these words of wisdom will inspire sea workers and help them to better appreciate the value of family ties.

Fisherman’s Family, undated, by Otto Kirberg (German, 1850–1926)

A loving heart maintains a family; a hateful heart destroys a family. —Šuruppak, Sumerian king

The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family. — Mother Teresa

There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained. — Winston Churchill

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — Leo Tolstoy, ‘Anna Karenina’

When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.— Gilbert K. Chesterton, ‘On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family’ (‘Heretics’)

A friend loves you for your intelligence, a mistress for your charm, but your family’s love is unreasoning; you were born into it and are of its flesh and blood. Nevertheless it can irritate you more than any group of people in the world. — André Maurois. ‘The Art of Living’

Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be. — Jane Austen, ‘Emma’

Woman by the Seaside by unknown 19th-century French painter

The curse which lies upon marriage is that too often the individuals are joined in their weakness rather than in their strength, each asking from the other instead of finding pleasure in giving. It is even more deceptive to dream of gaining through the child a plenitude, a warmth, a value, which one is unable to create for oneself; the child brings joy only to the woman who is capable of disinterestedly desiring the happiness of another, to one who without being wrapped up in self seeks to transcend her own existence. — Simone de Beauvoir, ‘The Second Sex’

What is there in the vale of life
Half so delightful as a wife,
When friendship, love, and peace combine
To stamp the marriage-bond divine?

— William Cowper, ‘Love Abused’

O ye gods,
Render me worthy of this noble wife!

— William Shakespeare, ‘Julius Cæsar’

There are three faithful friends,
an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.

— Benjamin Franklin, ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack’

Wives are young men’s mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men’s nurses. — Francis Bacon, ‘Of Marriage and Single Life’

He who does not support a wife, he who does not support a child, has no cause for celebration. — Sumerian proverb

On the Beach, 1908, by Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish, 1863–1923)

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you
cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

— Kahlil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’

When a child reaches adolescence, there is very apt to be a conflict between parents and child, since the latter considers himself to be by now quite capable of managing his own affairs, while the former are filled with parental solicitude, which is often a disguise for love of power. Parents consider, usually, that the various moral problems which arise in adolescence are peculiarly their province. The opinions they express, however, are so dogmatic that the young seldom confide in them, and usually go their own way in secret.” — Bertrand Russell, ‘Marriage and Morals’

If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent. — Bette Davis

The best that we can hope for in this life is that we shall not have sons and grandsons of whom we need to be ashamed.— Lin Yutang, ‘The Importance of Living’

Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence. — Plato

10 maritime maxims born of the COVID-19 pandemic

10 maritime maxims born of the COVID-19 pandemic

There is an upside to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst strewing death and misery along its path, the coronavirus has cast light on the real character of individuals and nations, of entire institutions and industries. Here are some facts about the shipping world that it has brought into sharper focus:


Seafarers are key workers. They hold the key to someone’s profits.


To make seafarers spend months stranded at sea is the shipping industry’s special way of treating the ‘unsung heroes of global trade’.


How can seafarers be “unsung heroes”? The shipping community has been singing praises to them every Day of the Seafarer for 10 years now.


There are loud calls for CREW CHANGE. Why not shout “Bring them home!” and focus the discussion on seafarer REPATRIATION? Ah, but business comes first.


In the shipping industry, words speak louder than action.


The coronavirus has slowed down the global economy but not the maritime slogans and buzzwords.


We don’t hear reports of maritime charities or maritime unions laying off workers because of the pandemic. Interesting.


Mega cruise ships may well go the way of the dinosaur. Bad for the cruise companies and seafarers but good for public health.


The ‘new normal’ does not apply to the maritime press. The latter will continue bombarding readers with press releases and puff pieces and doing the cut-and-paste routine. It is the norm.


Humankind will find a vaccine against COVID-19 long before it finds one against seafarer exploitation and abuse.

~ Barista Uno

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