It’s certainly not the best of times — what with the COVID-19 pandemic killing more than 2.4 million people worldwide thus far; wrecking entire economies; and sowing fear and despair all around. But for many seafarers, it has never been the best of times (see my post, ‘35 things that make life more difficult for seafarers’). Indeed, for those who work at sea, the worst of times is always just around the corner and it can pop up as when…
It sounds ironic, but many Third World seafarers make themselves vulnerable to exploitation because of their mindset and outlook. This does not justify, of course, the actions of those who abuse them. However, there are certain attitudes that could turn a seafarer into a ‘patsy’ — a term defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a person who is easily taken advantage of, especially by being cheated or blamed for something.” The following are five such attitudes.
I first learned about the food chain in grade school. What fascinated me then wasn’t so much the fact that the species at the top of the link fed on those below them. It was the idea of interconnectivity and interdependence in the natural world. Many years later, as a shipping and ports journalist, I would discover a more fascinating kind of food chain, one which continues to intrigue me to this day.
I used to cover Manila’s crewing sector as a long-longtime correspondent for British maritime publications. Since kissing ass was not in my vocabulary, I had a reputation for being a maverick who thought little of throwing brickbats at the bigwigs. But who cares about popularity? As a journalist, I did what I had to do and I did the best that I could. Over the years, I learned four important lessons about the local manning business and its underlying culture. They would eventually drive me to give up on this sector, to wit:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye,” wrote Antoine de Saint Exupéry in his 1943 novel, The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). Well, there are some things about seafarers’ rights that are quite visible to the eye but many fail to notice them or simpy refuse, for one reason or another, to acknowledge them. The following are plain truths about seafarers and how they are generally treated in the 21st century.
Seafarers are not asking for much. They certainly don’t expect to be treated like prima donnas. They just want a seaworthy vessel, good pay, decent food and accommodations at sea, and humane employers. Unfortunately, these needs are not always met. Seafarers from developing countries often get the short end of the stick — victims, not only of those who abuse them, but of a system that has virtually reduced them to mere commodities. Call it wishful thinking, but the following changes would help reverse the situation.
Why are seafarers still being exploited and subjected to all sorts of abuse in the 21st century? It is as though they were entangled in a vast web full of opportunistic spiders. All this in spite of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006; the loud, incessant talk about seafarers’ rights; and the new stream of slogans about seafarers being ’key workers’ and ‘heroes of global trade’. The reasons for this sad state of affairs are not hard to find . One only has to turn to some old proverbs for the answers.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet of essays, ‘Crisis’. He was referring to the American Revolution and the harsh winter of 1776. His statement, however, could apply as well to the time of the coronavirus — indeed, to any time when a person has to wrestle with an extraordinarily difficult or unpleasant situation. I hope the following quotes will provide some inspiration to my readers, especially those who toil at sea and take risks others don’t have to face.
Shanties (shipboard work songs) are fun to listen to because of their typically jaunty rhythm and hilarious lyrics. One exception is the popular ‘Leave Her, Johnny’, which was sung by 19th-century sailors on the Atlantic Ocean packet trade. Despite its dash of humour, this shanty tells of the trials and tribulations of seafarers.
It has been my custom to publish a list of maritime wishes for the New Year. The following are 10 such wishes I had made in previous years. All remain unfulfilled. They lie like dead seashells on the shore, which hardly surprises me. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and many in the maritime world are creatures of habit. Be that as it may, I still believe in dreams and wishes. A happy and peaceful 2021 to all of Marine Café Blog’s readers and supporters.
“Young man, be not forgetful of prayer,” wrote Fyodor Dostoevsky in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. “Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” Not everyone believes in the power of prayer. But for those who do, here are five prayers that may give seafarers the fresh courage to face difficult times.
The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a fertile ground for maritime rhetoric. Somebody shouted ‘Crew Change!” and suddenly everyone is mouthing the same slogan. Interestingly, the word “repatriation” is hardly ever mentioned. But that is exactly what seafarers who are stranded at sea urgently need: to be brought back to their home countries and be with their loved ones. The following are some specimens of the kind of language which has sprouted during the pandemic. There is nothing wrong with slogans and speeches — as long as they are not, to borrow Shakespeare’s words in his play Macbeth, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.