The story of Capt Seog Hae-gyun and how he dealt with murderous pirates to save his ship, the hijacked Samho Jewelry, and its crew is not just about bravery, exemplary as it was. It is ultimately about nobility – that state of being exalted in character that manifests itself in courage, self-sacrifice, generosity or honour. It is this that renders the 2011 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea bestowed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Capt Seog more meaningful, not just for the honouree, but for all of humankind. Take away nobility, and what you have is plain physical courage.

Capt Seog’s case is all the more noteworthy because the shipping world is money-driven. And when money rules, the first thing that flies out the window is nobility. You see the consequence in the sleazy practices of some shipowners and those engaged in manning and training: double book-keeping; understatement of crew rest hours; non-payment for shipboard overtime work; scrimping on food and other provisions for the crew; short-cuts in the area of marine safety; illegal exaction of fees from seafarer applicants; imposition of unnecessary training requirements; operation of substandard maritime schools and training facilities; and, in Manila, the use of maritime cadets as unpaid office help under the widely accepted flunkey system.

We hope the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006 (MLC 2006), which has yet to be ratified by the very countries that profess a strong commitment to seafarers’ welfare, will help eradicate such ills. Nobility, though, cannot be legislated. It is cultivated. Its seeds are planted with the realisation that every noble action exalts the human spirit whilst the opposite debases it. By setting an example for others to follow, Capt Seog has helped plant the seeds. ~Barista Uno

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