Harmony in blue and silver: Trouville — oil on canvas, 1865, by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
Nine years after its launch, Marine Café Blog is undergoing a sea change. I have decided to shift its focus to marine art, photography literature and culture — to the human side of shipping, as it were. Once in a while, I may blog about the maritime press and the role of language in the maritime world. No more talk of seamen’s rights; manning and training; maritime regulations; and the whole bloody business and politics of shipping.
For sure, I am not creating a vacuum (the graveyard and the sea are full of indispensable people). Many others will go on ranting about the rights and welfare of mariners, including those who make a living from doing so. For its part, the shipping press will continue doing what it does best: praise the bigwigs, regurgitate press releases, and copy and paste stories.
My decision to change tack has been strengthened by Reid Sprague, an American old salt who has been following the blog since its early days. He said: “God bless your voice, BU, crying in the wilderness! But the earthly fate of the prophet, as I’m sure you know, is seldom one to envy.”
How so right he is. Writing with candour about certain matters carries a price. Even so, I have no regrets. I have done my bit. Looking back to the past, I can draw satisfaction from the fact that Marine Café Blog was, amongst other things:
- the first to bring to light the EU threat to withdraw recognition of Filipino ship officers’ certificates;
- the first to call for the abolition of the Philippines’ Maritime Training Council, eventually leading to the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) taking over all functions related to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW)
- the first to publicly criticise the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for making money out of the STCW and refusing to give seamen free online access to the full text of the Convention and Code;
- the first to openly condemn the use of Filipino maritime cadets as unpaid office flunkeys and servants by manning agencies and seamen’s unions;
- the first to reject the popular buzzword ‘the human element’ on the grounds that it contributes to the commodification of merchant mariners; and
- the first to focus on the national obsession with ship crewing and warn of its consequences.
I am saying adieu to the shipping industry but not to the maritime world. The sea will always beckon, as it did to John Masefield, who wrote in his famous poem, ‘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.
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