“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet of essays, ‘Crisis’. He was referring to the American Revolution and the harsh winter of 1776. His statement, however, could apply as well to the time of the coronavirus — indeed, to any time when a person has to wrestle with an extraordinarily difficult or unpleasant situation. I hope the following quotes will provide some inspiration to my readers, especially those who toil at sea and take risks others don’t have to face.
Shanties (shipboard work songs) are fun to listen to because of their typically jaunty rhythm and hilarious lyrics. One exception is the popular ‘Leave Her, Johnny’, which was sung by 19th-century sailors on the Atlantic Ocean packet trade. Despite its dash of humour, this shanty tells of the trials and tribulations of seafarers.
It has been my custom to publish a list of maritime wishes for the New Year. The following are 10 such wishes I had made in previous years. All remain unfulfilled. They lie like dead seashells on the shore, which hardly surprises me. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and many in the maritime world are creatures of habit. Be that as it may, I still believe in dreams and wishes. A happy and peaceful 2021 to all of Marine Café Blog’s readers and supporters.
“Young man, be not forgetful of prayer,” wrote Fyodor Dostoevsky in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. “Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” Not everyone believes in the power of prayer. But for those who do, here are five prayers that may give seafarers the fresh courage to face difficult times.
The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a fertile ground for maritime rhetoric. Somebody shouted ‘Crew Change!” and suddenly everyone is mouthing the same slogan. Interestingly, the word “repatriation” is hardly ever mentioned. But that is exactly what seafarers who are stranded at sea urgently need: to be brought back to their home countries and be with their loved ones. The following are some specimens of the kind of language which has sprouted during the pandemic. There is nothing wrong with slogans and speeches — as long as they are not, to borrow Shakespeare’s words in his play Macbeth, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
I have encountered many CEOs of manning companies in Manila. Some were quite admirable: kind-hearted, generous and professional in their dealings. Others were less savoury characters. The following are five of the latter kind.
In a world where money talks and the end often justifies the means, to speak of utopia may seem out of place. The term, by definition, is an imagined state of affairs in which everything is perfect. But as the old Spanish proverb says, “If you build no castles in the air, you build no castles anywhere.” So let me describe to you a new maritime order which is the exact opposite of the dystopian world of today’s seafarers. What would such a place be like?
What seafarer has not suffered from a bout of loneliness and boredom? These twin monsters can creep in like the tide after one’s watch is over and there is little else to do. Some seafarers may plunge into depression. One maritime charity group seems to think that a two-day online course on mental health costing £125 per participant will address the problem. What a silly idea! Why not promote instead the love for reading amongst seafarers? As the following quotes suggest, books can do wonders for both mind and spirit.
I recently came across a traditiional folk ballad called ‘Hard, Hard Times’. It is light-hearted but has a serious social message, so I thought I should share it with the readers of Marine Café Blog. The song talks about dishonesty, greed and hyprocrisy in society at large — the same ills that plague much of the shipping and mannning sectors and cause misery to those who work at sea.
Those who exploit seafarers — and there’s a legion of them — have no need for a guide. The thing comes naturally to the greedy and the shameless. But if there were such a guide, it would probably include the following items, the first seven of which pertain to manning agents:
“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” wrote Franz Kafka, the German-language Bohemian novelist. I don’t know if ‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’, an e-book which I published in 2018, is sharp enough to cut through the figurative sea. That sea is frozen hard in the hearts and minds of many local folks.
Marine Café Blog recently detailed how Filipino seafarers were being short-changed big time on their remittances. Yet, despite the scale of the problem, the press has not deigned to take up the issue. Nor have I heard the seafarer unions and the bleeding-heart maritime NGOs openly condemn the cheating. The same was true when I first wrote in 2013 about Manila’s maritime flunkeys — i.e., cadets who work as unpaid labour for manning agencies and unions. Why the silence?