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[UPDATED] A litany of sins against seafarers, on land and at sea

Updated on 12th July 2021 with additional items to the lists and some editing. The original article appeared in Marine Café Blog on 13th April 2021.

There is never a dearth of news reports about seafarers being cheated, taken advantage of, oppressed and otherwise maltreated. The whole thing goes on and on, in spite of the many bleeding hearts in shipping. The following is a list of the myriad ways in which the rights of mariners are violated, both on land and at sea. Ironically, some are being overlooked or ignored by the maritime press and by those who profess love and compassion for seafarers.

‘Day of the Seafarer’: A vital question no one is raising

The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a damper on the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ celebration (25th of June). Still, the well-worn expressions of love and concern for the men and women who work at sea have kept flowing. It is an annual act the International Maritime Organization wants everyone to get into — and many are complying. Amid the brouhaha, has anyone asked why the event is spearheaded by the IMO and not by the International Labour Organization (ILO)?

Filipino seafarer remittances: 3 ways to stop the stealing

The short-changing of Filipino mariners on their remttances seems to be an incurable disease. Dishonest manning agents have been at it for decades. They convert the dollars to pesos at less than the prevailing foreign exchange rate. This means less money in monthly allotments for the families of seafarers. The total annual take for those with sticky fingers may well run to millions of dollars. The following are three ways to put a stop to the stealing, but each one, unfortunately, is not without problems.

One thing can change the course of seafarers’ rights

A torrent of words continues to swirl around seafarers’ rights. It’s a giant whirlwind that is constantly whipped up by the maritime unions and various NGOs. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has joined in with its own brand of rhetoric and sloganeering. Never mind if the issue of workers’ rights properly belongs to another UN agency, the International Labour Organization. Amid all the noise, one word hardly gets mentioned. Yet, in this single word can be found the path to a better treatment of seafarers.

Some immortal lines about the hard life of seafarers

Who can truly know what a seafarer’s life is like? Surely, none but a person who has spent some time at sea and worked his ass off on board a ship. But thanks to nautical writers, the curious landlubber can have an insight into that life and perhaps feel a bit of empathy with seafarers.

The following are excerpts from some of these writers. Although they describe conditions faced by sailors in earlier times, the quoted passages should resonate with present-day readers. The truth is that the sea is still a dangerous place, and life is still hard for many mariners — notwithstanding all the noise about their rights as workers and as human beings.

What’s wrong with the campaigns vs. depression at sea?

After several posts about the subject, I thought I would not have to write again about depression at sea. But some maritime charities continue to beat the war drums. They try to paint depression as a scourge on today’s seafarers, something that has to be defeated like ISIL or Al-Qaeda. Promoting mental health amongst those who work at sea is commendable. So what’s wrong with these well-intentioned efforts to combat seafarer depression?

Worst of times for seafarers but not due to COVID-19

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…

How seafarers contribute to their own exploitation

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.

Where are you in the maritime food chain?

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.

Why I finally gave up on Manila’s manning community

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:

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