The recent death of 22-year-old engineer cadet Dayra Wood on board a Panamanian-flag product carrier does not only sadden me. The ITF Panama inspector’s report, which was quoted in the ITF press statement of 10th September, it fills me with anguish and rage.

For more than two weeks, the ship nonchalantly sailed through Panama and thence to Mexico whilst the young woman’s body was stored inside the ship’s refrigerator. She was like frozen lamb in a supermarket before her remains were brought ashore for proper burial in Panama. Have seafarers been totally commodified?

The ITF is rightfully indignant. Why wasn’t Ms Wood’s family told straightaway about her death? Why was the ship allowed by the Panamanian and Mexican authorities to sail for 17 days with her body on board?

Some other questions arise that will probably never be answered. Did the master and the ship’s owners handle this outrageous affair the way they did because Ms Wood was a cadet and not a regular crew member? Was it because she was a woman? The saddest part is that Ms Wood is likely to become just another statistic, to be completely forgotten after the ruckus has died down.

I have no illusions that the world will stop regarding seafarers tomorrow as commodities to be acquired and marketed like other goods. It’s happening every day in Manila: cadets serving as unpaid labour in manning offices and maritime unions; ship officers standing under the heat of the noonday sun because very few crewing agencies bother to have officers’ lounges; and seafarers preyed upon by government clerks, lawyers, doctors, and a host of other characters. 

This is no way to treat seafarers — living or dead. It’s obscene.


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