This is my last blog post about the decades-old scam involving the theft of dollars sent home by Filipino seafarers. No, the problem has not gone away. On the contrary, dishonest manning agents continue to skim money from the remittances of the men and woman who toil at sea.
Folks at The Nautical Institute in London continue to refer to seafarers as “the human element”. They and others who are well meaning may think that it helps in analysing and elucidating certain maritime issues. What the use of the phrase has accomplished is objectify further the men and women who work at sea.
Most seafarers, I believe, have modest demands. They just want to earn an honest living and take care of their families with the least hassle possible. They don’t want to be treated like royalty or hailed as heroes on the annual Day of the Seafarer. Alas, what little they expect is often tossed overboard in a shipping world that is driven by the love of money.
The “Day of the Seafarer” was first celebrated on 25th June 2011. After 11 long years, one would imagine that things have changed for the better for seafarers. But that is not the case. The litany of sins committed against the men and women who toil at sea has not grown shorter. The following are seven of the things that have not changed:
The shipping industry is never short of hearts that bleed for seafarers. But how much value does it actually place on the men and women who work at sea? Part of the answer can be found in the cash benefits paid out under the ITF collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) to the families of seafarers who die whilst in sea service.
Mass layoffs by companies are not uncommon. But the axing of 800 British seafarer jobs on 17th March this year by P&O Ferries, a company owned by Dubai-based DP World, was something else. Because of the scale and suddenness of the move, it was akin to a massacre. And it was rightly met with anger and condemnation, inside and outside the UK.
I was sceptical when the maritime charities launched their campaign against depression at sea. Why the sudden, passionate concern over the mental heath of seafarers ? None of the old salts I have known ever talked about feeling depressed. Indeed, they all seem to have enjoyed their life as mariners.
There is no shortage of maritime do-gooders in Manila: seafarer unions, maritime charities, party list groups advocating seafarers’ rights, shipping journalists, and even (don’t laugh now) manning agents. Though they seem well-intentioned, these bleeding hearts remind me of a 19th-century pen and chalk drawing (pictured above) by Dutch artist Johannes Tavenraat which depicts a horse with blinkers.
On 12th January 2020, I published a candid article on why it is so easy for manning agents to skim money from the dollar remittances of Filipino seafarers. “The system facilitates the stealing,” I said flatly. I elaborated on the statement in a 21st September 2020 post, but the problem continues to this day.
This story highlights the stark contrast between the ILO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the treatment of maritime conventions that affect seafarers. Who really cares about the men and women who toil at sea?
I was sceptical early on about the campaign being waged by maritime charities against depression at sea. The problem is undoubtedly very real. But the way the charities have been drumming up the issue as though depression was sweeping the seafaring world like a tsunami raised two questions in my mind.
“Let every new year find you a better man,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman and inventor, in his 1914 Poor Richard’s Almanack. The following are some things seafarers can do this year to achieve that goal. No doubt, they can think of other ways. The thing is to undertake some new activity and open a path to self-fulfillment. A prosperous New Year need not mean prosperity only in financial terms.