As a maritime writer, I must confess that I have, more than once, suffered from self-doubt and a gnawing sense of futility. What does it matter if I write about the rights of seafarers or not? Or about marine art and culture? Will it make a bloody difference? The questions sometimes come like arrows to pierce the soul. Yet, I have managed to continue writing (Marine Café Blog will mark its 11th anniversary this August). I draw courage and inspiration from what famous writers have said about the pain and joy of writing.
In ordinary usage, the word “siren” is defined by the Oxford English Dictiionary as “a woman who is considered to be alluring or fascinating but also dangerous in some way”. Feminists might object to the term as being sexist. However, not a few women would feel flattered if they were called “siren”. In Greek mytholody, sirens (pictured above) were creatures, half bird and half woman, whose music and singing lured unsuspecting sailors to destruction. They have since become the archetype of the woman who has the ability to bewitch and have control over men.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the European Maritime Safety Agency to suspend its inspection visits to non-EU countries supplying crews to EU-flagged vessels. Between 2005 and 2019, EMSA had racked up a total of 75 such visits… Wouldn’t it be better if the EMSA inspections were scrapped altogether? Shouldn’t each EU member state be allowed, as a matter of sovereign right, to decide whether seafarers from outside the EU are up to standard and to hire them according to their needs?
Most men and women who work at sea, I suppose, eventually get used to being away from home. But sometimes the loneliness can be excruciating as in the case of seafarers who have been stranded amid the coronavirus pandemic. In such dire situations, it is the thought of being reunited with one’s family that can serve as a fountain of hope.
The following quotes deal with the family as an institution and with married life and parenting. I trust that these words of wisdom will inspire sea workers and help them to better appreciate the value of family ties.
There is an upside to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst strewing death and misery along its path, the coronavirus has cast light on the real character of individuals and nations, of entire institutions and industries. Here are some facts about the shipping world that it has brought into sharper focus:
These are not the best times for America. The nation has been ravaged by the coronavirus and rent by racial divisions. For all this, Americans have good reason to celebrate the 4th of July in a big way. As John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote:
‘It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’ (Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776)
Anything in excess is bad. It can also be tiresome. So, instead of talking yet again about seafarers’ rights or the sins of the maritime press, I thought I would share some photographs I took recently in the backyard garden of the house where I live.
In his splendid 1922 book, All About Coffee. William H. Ukers wrote: “(Coffee) acts upon the nervous system as a powerful cerebro-spinal stimulant, increasing mental activity and quickening the power of perception, thus making the thoughts more precise and clear…” Given how seafarers’ rights continue to be routinely violated, the campaign to promote these rights needs a similar stimulant — a strong push, a fillip. The following are six ways that should help achieve this goal.
Lighthouses may look plain and simple. The unromantic would consider them uninteresting, not worth a second look. However, to the observant eye, lighthouses have a certain majesty and elegance which seem to be enhanced by the very fact that they stand far from the madding crowd. All of the following photographs are more than 100 years old, but they remain as alluring today as the lighthouses they depict.
The thought of seafarers stranded by the thousands because of the COVID-19 pandemic makes me hark back to a poem in Spanish entitled ‘Perdón si por mis ojos’. It was written by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973), winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature. I am delighted to share this powerful poem together with my English translation. Neruda describes the inner life of the seafarer against a backdrop of water, rock and seaweed.
he coronavirus is deadly but not deadly enough to curtail maritime sloganeering. Paeans to seafarers are once again pouring out in the lead-up to the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ (25th June).
As usual, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is leading the chorus. The theme it has chosen for this year’s celebration is #SeafarersAreKeyWorkers. The hashtag signifies that the IMO expects the message to spread like a virus on social media and sundry places in the internet.
American poet Emily Dickinson once said of poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” The following sea poems may well induce the same effect. Together they speak of the joy and pain of the seafaring life in simple but heartfelt language.
French Impressionist painter Claude Monet found plenty of room for his creative imagination in Étretat, a fishing village and resort on the Normandy coast. He sojourned in the place several times between1883 and 1886. In all, according to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Étretat inspired more than 50 of his canvases.