As a maritime writer, I must confess that I have, more than once, suffered from self-doubt and a gnawing sense of futility. What does it matter if I write about the rights of seafarers or not? Or about marine art and culture? Will it make a bloody difference? The questions sometimes come like arrows to pierce the soul. Yet, I have managed to continue writing (Marine Café Blog will mark its 11th anniversary this August). I draw courage and inspiration from what famous writers have said about the pain and joy of writing.
The shipping industry has a strong fetish for buzzwords. The latest to ring loud and clear is “crew change” — a slogan spawned by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent stranding at sea of thousands of seafarers. Interestingly, nowhere in ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended can one find the phrase “crew change”. Instead, MLC 2006 talks of repatriation (the word is mentioned 37 times in the main body).
he coronavirus is deadly but not deadly enough to curtail maritime sloganeering. Paeans to seafarers are once again pouring out in the lead-up to the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ (25th June).
As usual, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is leading the chorus. The theme it has chosen for this year’s celebration is #SeafarersAreKeyWorkers. The hashtag signifies that the IMO expects the message to spread like a virus on social media and sundry places in the internet.
In today’s maritime press, the distinction between editorial and advertising space continues to be blurred almost to the point of extinction. I have dealt with this topic before, but I feel compelled to write about it again because, as a former shipping and ports journalist, I am appalled. A publication is supposed to sell only advertising space. Editorial space is for news and other editorial material.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why maritime charity workers love to post selfies on social media. Can anyone imagine Mother Teresa carrying a selfie stick whilst ministering to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta?
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.
The coronavirus pandemic is a dark time for the entire world. Even so, it has served to highlight the true state of seafarers’ rights — minus the rhetoric and euphemisms the shipping industry loves to use. The following memes contain some of my personal views on the subject in light of COVID-19. I have created them especialy for seafarers to share with others.
Well, today’s maritime press seems to be doing a good job of turning out more chaff than wheat. Every story, as journalists learned in school., should be able to answer the Five W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why. The first four are easy enough to handle. The last is more challenging. It requires an inquisitive mind and a certain amount of cynicism on the part of journalists. Here are some questions the maritime press has not been asking:
“To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and those who edit and read it are old women over their tea.” Thus wrote Henry David Thoreau with unconcealed disdain for the press. The truth, however, is that most people are hungry for news and will gobble it up even if it is gossip disguised as news. Maritime professionals are no exception. The following are some headlines that should make them sit up and take notice:
There is nothing wrong with bandwagons per se. In fact, they are often necessary in bringing about change as the whole world is witnessing in the case of women’s rights and climate action. The problem arises when people are swayed by rhetoric, not reason, and unthinkingly hop onto the wagon just because it is fashionable to do so. Unfortunately, this is happening with the bandwagon that carries the banners “Wellness at Sea” and “Seafarer Mental Health”.
After writing about seafarers’ rights for almost a decade, I felt drained and defeated. The abuses against seamen were continuing. It was as if ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (the so-called “bill of rights” of seafarers) had never existed… I began to realise that writers who speak candidly on seafarer issues would never receive popular support.
In 2019 the shipping industry almost went crazy over wellness training and the issue of seafarer mental health. The noise from the charities was so loud that it seemed like depression at sea was some kind of an epidemic worse than the Ebola plague. It did not help that the conformist maritime press amplified their frantic messages and slogans. Marine Café Blog refused to be suck in by all that frenzy.