It’s interesting how the plight of seafarers can be encapsulated in a single word. The following list of transitive verbs (or action words with a direct object) provides good examples. The words tell some of the ways seafarers are exploited or mistreated. For each one, I have given a definition with specific reference to those who work at sea and for whom so many words of sympathy are spun by the bleeding hearts in shipping.
Updated on 12th July 2021 with additional items to the lists and some editing. The original article appeared in Marine Café Blog on 13th April 2021.
There is never a dearth of news reports about seafarers being cheated, taken advantage of, oppressed and otherwise maltreated. The whole thing goes on and on, in spite of the many bleeding hearts in shipping. The following is a list of the myriad ways in which the rights of mariners are violated, both on land and at sea. Ironically, some are being overlooked or ignored by the maritime press and by those who profess love and compassion for seafarers.
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” wrote W.H. Auden in his poem First Things First. This is such an obvious truth that one wonders why the seas are strewn with tonnes of plastic waste and rivers are polluted till they become dark and ugly. The following song and works of art are a tribute to life-giving andl life-sustaining water. They are a reminder as well that water is a precious resource that ought not to be taken for granted.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a damper on the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ celebration (25th of June). Still, the well-worn expressions of love and concern for the men and women who work at sea have kept flowing. It is an annual act the International Maritime Organization wants everyone to get into — and many are complying. Amid the brouhaha, has anyone asked why the event is spearheaded by the IMO and not by the International Labour Organization (ILO)?
Most folks who have seen the works of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851) would understand why he is England’s most beloved Romantic landscape painter. The English art critic John Ruskin, himself a gifted artist, said of Turner in his 1843 book ‘Modern Painters’ (Volume I):
“For the conventional color he substituted a pure straightforward rendering of fact, as far as was in his power; and that not of such fact as had been before even suggested, but of all that is most brilliant, beautiful, and inimitable; he went to the cataract for its iris, to the conflagration for its flames, asked of the sea its intensest azure, of the sky its clearest gold.”
No song probably depicts the hardships and suffering of African-Americans as poignantly and as beautifully as ‘Ol’ Man River’. Jerome Kerr composed the song for the 1927 musical Show Boat with Oscar Hammerstein II as lyricist. Almost a century on, the words and the melody still resound in a society that has yet to really come to grips with racism.
Narcissism seems to be getting out of hand even in the staid world of shipping. Just visit LinkedIn, the professional networking website. The place is brimming with what one might describe as corporate selfies. A lecture delivered, a commendation received, an article published — it’s all a great opportunity for martiime folks, both the prominent and the obscure, to post pictures and sometimes videos of themselves.
Does the rest of the world give a hoot? Most probably not, but the posters think they have accomplished something important that has to be trumpeted.
Men who are obsessed with manliness can learn a lesson from tugboats. These mean little machines are capable of pulling ships and barges that are many times their size. They can navigate through narrow canals and shallow waters. Their power and adroitness more than make up for their relative lack of bulk. The best tugboat, however, is a wimp on the water without an experienced skipper at the helm. It all boils down to how one uses the power available.
To be brutally frank, most men have a constant need to validate themselves. They do so in a myriad of ways. Some may go into bodybuilding; engage in numerous casual sex affairs; or speak and act arrogantly. Others express their manliness in more subtle ways, such as driving around town in an expensive SUV or displaying their awards and trophies in their offices for visitors to admire..
It’s a kind of psychological weakness from which many a seafarer is not exempt. Indeed, the obsession with manliness is common in the still-male-dominated world of shipping. The following are some memorable quotes about this male phenomenon.
The short-changing of Filipino mariners on their remttances seems to be an incurable disease. Dishonest manning agents have been at it for decades. They convert the dollars to pesos at less than the prevailing foreign exchange rate. This means less money in monthly allotments for the families of seafarers. The total annual take for those with sticky fingers may well run to millions of dollars. The following are three ways to put a stop to the stealing, but each one, unfortunately, is not without problems.
Unless one is a polyglot, searching for the equivalent of ‘seafarer’ in different languages can be a daunting task. According to Ethnologue, the leading resource on world languages, there are 7,139 known living languages. Perhaps not all of them have names for ‘seafarer’, but even a partial list of such names would call to mind the biblical story of the Tower of Babel.
The French call a still life ‘nature morte’ — literally meaning ‘dead nature’. The term seems spot on. The British art institution Tate describes still life as “one of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead.” However, the word ‘dead’ hardly comes to mind when one comes face to face with a masterful still life.
The following paintings depicting fish and other seafood are fine examples. They celebrate the bounty of the sea and the infinite richness of nature. But more than a feast for the eye, these still lifes, hopefully, will remind the reader of the oft-oppressed fishermen who help feed humanity.
Shakespeare and all the other writers who said beauty fades spoke the obvious. Unless they are properly maintained, even beautiful lighthouses eventually fall victim to the ravages of time. But some old photographs of such structures, thankfully, are here to stay. The following pictures were all taken more than a century ago. Yet, they still retain the power to captivate and prompt the viewer to think about the beauty and splendour of lighthouses