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.
Marine Café Blog often hones in on topics that are hardly talked about by the maritime community and generally ignored by the shipping press. It was the first to raise three issues in particular which involve the rights and welfare of seafarers. Perhaps I should take some pride in this, but I don’t. The reason is that these issues continue to fall on many deaf ears. It can be bloody frustrating.
The use of the catchphrase “the human element” to refer to seafarers has always bothered me no end. It sounds too cold. It calls to mind the periodic table of elements invented by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. But more important, the term degrades seafarers to the status of mere objects.
In April this year, a Romanian captain died at sea and was kept in the ship’s walk-in freezer for six months because 13 countries refused to have the body unloaded. The story may no longer shock as strange things have been happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it raises some very disturbing questions.
Power drives the shipping world — not money, although everyone seems to be preoccupied with it. The desire for power (and control) is what really spurs the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to issue more and more regulations for ships and crews.
The same motivating force is behind the mistreatment of seafarers by abusive ship masters and rogue shipowners; the use of cadets as unpaid labour by manning agents; the muscle-flexing by seafarer unions; and the inspection visits by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
One can understand that the printed edition of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (or STCW) cannot be given for free. Like any other publisher, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has to cover the cost of printing plus some markup for overhead expenses and profit. But why sell the electronic edition, and for a hefty £50 (USD67.16) at that?
Some seafarers are undoubtedly satisfied with their manning agents. So long as the pay is good, the vessel is seaworthy, the shipowner complies with the Maritime Labour Convention, and one’s contract is renewed when it ends, what is there to complain about? Surely, though, seafarers deserve much more. The following, in my view, are seven things that make for an ideal manning agent:
The ship of fools is an allegory first used by Plato in Book VI of his Republic to highlight the problems of governance in a system that is not based on expert knowledge. The ship has a dysfunctional crew, each one pretending to be smart and trying to play captain. Well, there’s a brand new ship of fools with various characters on the deck of seafarers’ rights and welfare. Take a look:
Many crewing agencies in Manila regularly use cadets as unpaid office flunkeys and even as personal servants, in some cases for months on end. They are the main guilty parties in this egregious exploitation of young aspiring ship officers. But some others are complicit.