To be a seafarer is no joke. It’s a hard life, and there are many things that make it even more so (see my article, ’35 things that make life more difficult for seafarers’). So why do many young Filipinos want to serve in the Merchant Marine? Listed below are some of the usual reasons. I would have liked to include love for the sea and life at sea. However, I have known only a few Filipinos who were driven by such a passion — sea dogs who are now old or have passed away.
Life is hard enough for seafarers without other people making it harder. Alas, there is no shortage of individuals, often including one’s kith and kin, who would take advantage of this group of workers. Ironically, some institutions and regulations are the very source of the exploitation and the suffering. The following is a list of things many seafarers have to put up with as they struggle to build a better future for themselves and their families.
Old sailors and old fishermen always fascinate me. The former are often referred to as “sea dogs” or lobos de mar in Spanish. Sailor or fisherman, the appellation is entirely appropriate. These men are hardy spirits who cut their teeth on boats and spent many years at sea.
Proverbs can offer more wisdom than one can find in a philosophical treatise. I like to compare them to a demitasse, the small cup used to serve strong black coffee. The following are 30 such sayings. I have collected and arranged them by theme in the hope that seafarers and other readers of Marine Café Blog would benefit from their homespun truths.
It’s the worst of times for both ships and seafarers.
The World Trade Organization in Geneva has forecast world merchandise trade to plummet by 13% in 2020. If the coronavirus pandemic is not brought under control and governments fail to coodinate their policy responses, the drop could be as much as 32%.
It is not only loneliness that seafarers have to endure. Away from their families, the shopping malls and their favourite watering holes, they often have to deal with boredom. There is really little to do on board a ship after one’s watch is over. What better way to spend those idle hours than to read a good book?
There are good and bad manning agencies, but I personally would rather have a hiring hall do the crew selection and deployment. I have seen enough in maritime Manila to say that crewing companies are a necessary evil. But they are not going away anytime soon. The best that seafarers can do is be discerning enough to deal only with the decent ones — definitely not an easy task if there are so many to choose from.
The STCW convention sets minimum standards for the training and certification of seafarers. That’s all well and good, but is competency enough for ship officers? Many a seasoned captain has figured in horrific sea accidents, not on account of bad weather or an unseaworthy vessel, but because of some character flaw.
A girl in every port. The expression sums up the popular image of the sailor: an inveterate womaniser and skirt-chaser. The reputation, I think, is not wholly undeserved. With their pockets filled with dollars, seafarers get to meet women in all shapes and colours around the world. The temptation to have a fling can be too great to resist.
Some maritime Casanovas never change. They go on with their merry ways long after they have grown older and quit sailing. On the other hand, there are seamen who may have sown their wild oaths but eventually settled down and remained faithful to their wives. I have known both types. Many seafarers, I am sure, can identify themselves with the following artworks:
In developing countries, it is poverty and lack of decent-paying jobs on shore that drive young men and women to become seafarers. It is the siren call of the dollar, not the joy of being at sea and sailing which British poet John Masefield eloquently expressed in ‘Sea-Fever’: I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide/ Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; / And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, / And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I have never quite understood why Filipinos keep saying they are the top crew-supplying nation. The line is repeated so often by manning agents, journalists and academics that it has become a mantra. Those who say it do so with unconcealed pride — as if manning other...
Old sea dogs fascinate me. They are such interesting characters that writers and artists made them the centrepiece of their works. They even inspired the humorous circa-1905 photograph (shown above) from the defunct Detroit Publishing Company. Alas, these hardy...