The impact of COVID-19 on seafarers’ rights

The impact of COVID-19 on seafarers’ rights

As the novel coronavirus marches on, the global shipping community is hailing seafarers as the “Unsung Heroes of Global Trade”. The slogan sounds nice but hollow. In fact, it is downright disingenuous.

How can the words ring true when thousands of seafarers have been stranded in foreign ports and harbours because of COVID-19? That the problem exists on such a scale shows how the maritime world really regards the men and women who toil at sea: they are commodities.

Some likely scenarios

The commodification of seafarers will not end after the pandemic has blown over. Anyone who thinks otherwise is hopelessly naive. Violations of seafarers’ rights, which had been rife long before COVID-19, could very well increase. The following scenerios in the short term are not hard to imagine, especially in poorer countries:

> The slump in shipping markets will lead to a scramble for shipboard jobs, fuelling corruption and such malpractices as the illegal exaction of fees from applicants.

> Cases of crew abandonment will increase rather than decline as more shipping operators face financial difficulties.

> As crew deployment dips, more manning agents will be tempted to steal from the dollar remittances of seafarers.

> Cutthroat competition amongst training centres will increase because of dwindling enrolments.

> Seafarers claiming for sickness or disability benefits will face more stonewalling from shipowners and their crewing agents.

For all the damage it has wrought, the pandemic has served as fertile ground for many acts of kindness, generosity and even heroism, It may, in the end, help humanise communities. One can only pray that it will have the same effect on those who deal with seafarers.

~ Barista Uno


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10 ways seafarers can improve their English skills

10 ways seafarers can improve their English skills

Never mind Maritime English. That thing was invented so that more people can make money from seafarers. What is essential is that ship officers and crew are able to communicate in simple, clear and effective English.

Good English language skills not only contribute to shipboard safety and proper coordination between members of the crew. They can also boost a ship officer’s career. I have known successful doctors, chemists and ship officers who were not particularly bright or talented. Yet, they went far because they could express themselves in proper English.

I hope the following tips will help seafarers and others who wish to speak and write better English.


Avoid textspeak when texting (e.g., typing “cul8r” to mean “see you later”). You cannot hone your English skills by butchering the language in this manner.



Practise your English on Facebook. Post or comment in English, and do not limit yourself to your own nationality group and native language.



Stick to English when speaking in English. Do not mix English with words or phrases in your native language in the same sentence (Filipinos have this bad habit). This is no way to improve your command of English. It can also be annoying to your listener.



Watch English language films and TV talk shows. Pay attention to the dialogue and how words and phrases are spoken.



Install a dictionary on your smartphone. It comes in handy when you encounter a word you are not familiar with. Several dictionaries are available in Google App Store (I use the free version of the Oxford Dictionary)



Challenge yourself with crossword puzzles. It will help you expand your vocabulary and is a good way to beat boredom and loneliness.



Practise reading aloud a short paragraph and record your voice. This will give you a good idea of how you sound like when speaking to people.



Be conscious of how you pronounce words in English. Not pronouncing them correctly could result in your being misundertood or misinterpreted by others.



Watch your spelling and grammar.



Cultivate the habit of reading. Books and magazines help broaden your outlook and improve your English skills.

~ Barista Uno


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The art of isolation in marine art

The art of isolation in marine art

The art of isolation in marine art

Freedom is the possibility of isolation. — Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

While humans by nature have a perpetual need for company, we all need to be alone sometimes. No, not the solitude of quarantine or imprisonment, but the solitariness born out of choice and free will. To be able to step back from the noisy crowd is to be free in the real sense of the word. As the following works of art show, there is something beautiful and almost sublime about this freedom.

Reading by the Shore, circa 1883-85
Charles Sprague Pearce (American, 1851–1914)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Hawaiian Fisherman, 1916
Charles W. Bartlett (English, 1860–1940)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Fisherman and Reeds, Album-Leaf Painting, 19th century
Unknown Chinese painter
Image source: Brooklyn Museum

Melancholy, 1911
Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863–1944)
Image source: Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

The Red Canoe, 1889
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The seaside in Palavas, 1854
Gustave Courbet (French, 1819–1877)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

~ Barista Uno


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Crowded beaches and thoughts about the human herd

Crowded beaches and thoughts about the human herd

A crowded beach speaks eloquently of the human condition: the perpetual need for company. People not only congregate there to enjoy sun and sea. They desire to mingle with others and be part of a larger fellowship.

This is why many are whining about the coronavirus lockdowns. To be forced to stay at home is not essentially different from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange withering away in London’s Belmarsh Prison. One is deprived, not only of freedom of movement, but of human companionship.

Social distancing? Heaven forbid that it will ever be “the new normal”. Staying apart from others goes against the very nature of man as a social creature — indeed against what makes him all so human.

Sunday on the Beach, ca. 1896-1898
Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American, 1858–1924)
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The Beach, 1877
Eugène Boudin (French, 1824–1898)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The herd mentality

For many, going to the beach when it is packed with people is more fun. Humans are naturally curious. They love to watch their fellow humans. At the beach, one can engage in this innocuous little pleasure whilst remaining anonymous in the crowd.

But why be all at the beach at the same time? One wonders if this is part of the phenomenon known as herd mentality. The Oxford Dictionary defines the term as “the tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong.”

The tendency is particularly pronounced amongst teenagers, many of whom are having to deal with peer pressure. The fear of being different drives them to listen to the same kind of music, watch the same movies and even wear the same style of clothes.

Adults are not any different. The herd mentality rules in the world of shipping and commerce — and, yes, on social media as well.


The importance of solitude

Dwelling among Mountains and Clouds, 1685
Gong Xian (Chinese, 1619–1689)

The artist’s poem is inscribed at the upper right:

Where I dwell white clouds often crowd;
But only deer travel my recently opened mountain path.
How wonderful to bring wine up to the pavilion;
Letting go a pure song in the shadows of the setting sun.

Image and text courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

People generally hate to be alone. Unless one is a monk or a fisherman, long periods of solitude and isolation can be unbearable. They can lead to gloominess and despair.

Still, there is much to be said for spending some time with one’s self. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal.

Dwelling as a hermit on a mountain is not for everyone, of course. But withdrawing once in a while from society should be good for preserving one’s sanity and as rewarding as lounging on a crowded beach.

~ Barista Uno


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30 old proverbs for today’s seafarers to live by

30 old proverbs for today’s seafarers to live by

proverb: a short, well-known pithy sayimg, stating a general truth
or piece of advice

~ from the Oxford Dictionary

Proverbs can offer more wisdom than one can find in a philosophical treatise. I like to compare them to a demitasse, the small cup used to serve strong black coffee. The following are 30 such sayings. I have collected and arranged them by theme in the hope that seafarers and other readers of Marine Café Blog would benefit from their homespun truths.



1. Where one door shuts, another opens.

When you miss an opportunity, another one will often arise. So do not dwell on what is past.

2. Fortune favors the bold.

Those who take risks in life are more likely to get what they desire.

3. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

People are usually not satisfied with what they have. They think others are better off than they are.

4. It never rains but it pours.

Good or bad things tend to happen, not one at a time, but all at once.

5. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

You don’t get something for nothing. People usually expect something in return when they help you or do you a favour.

Work and Career


1. Begin to weave and God will give the thread.

Get yourself to start the job, and you will have more faith and confidence in the outcome.

2. The work praises the man.

Let the quality of your work speak for itself. It is your best commendation, not what others say.

3. A good beginning is half the battle.

If started well, a project tends to gain momentum and and is more likely to lead to success than in the case of a bad beginning.

4. Fall seven times, stand up eight.

The important thing is to try again when you have failed. Giving up means losing the opportunity to succeed.

5. Nothing succeeds like success.

Success gives you the confidence and encouragement needed for future undertakings. It also tends to invite the support of other people.



1. Money is a good servant but a bad master.

Money can satisfy your desires. But if you are obsessed with accumulating more of it, you become its slave.

2. A penny saved is a penny earned (or gained).

A thrifty person is better off than one who squanders his money.

3. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Money is not easy to come by, so spend it wisely.

4. A fool and his money are soon parted.

A person who is gullible and too trusting is easily victimised by fraudsters.

5. Shrouds have no pockets.

Don’t be too materialistic. You can’t take it with you.



1. When one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow.

A person who is in love often ignores the red flags (e.g., the fact that the object of his love is only after his or her money).

2. All’s fair in love and war.

This proverb expresses the idea that affairs of the heart are no different from war. Lovers can resort to any strategem or action that otherwise would be considered unfair or unethical.

3. Eggs and oaths are easily broken.

Promises made by lovers are fragile like eggs and can be broken at any time.

4. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Love is such an enriching human experience that it is worth whatever pain or anguish it may bring.

5. There are plenty more fish in the sea.

This is often said to a man who has been rejected or betrayed by the woman he loves.



1. Time and tide wait for no man.

Like the tide, time will not stop for one who delays or procrastinates.

2. Haste makes waste.

Rushing a job can lead to mistakes, which means you will have to do it over again and spend more time and perhaps more money.

3. A stitch in time saves nine.

Do not wait for a small problem to get bigger. Fix it right away to save yourself trouble.

4. Procrastination is the thief of time.

If you put off doing what needs to be done, you may have little or no time to do it when you finally decide to do so.

5. Time is a great healer.

Emotional pain will eventually subside or go away as time passes.

Social Relations


1. Do as you would be done by.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

2. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

A true friend will be there to help you when you need help.

3. He that hath a full purse never wanted a friend.

Rich people have no problem winning and keeping friends precisely because they are rich.

4. He is a good friend that speaks well of us behind our backs.

A true friend will not speak ill of you when you are not present.

5. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Be careful in criticising others as you may have your own faults that they can attack.

~ Barista Uno


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