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Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
Oil on canvass, circa 1842, by Joseph Mallord William Turner

“He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea,” wrote the 17th-century British poet and priest, George Herbert. Those words ring louder following the spate of sea disasters that greeted the start of 2015. Unlike other writers, we won’t ask why maritime accidents still happen or how shipping can be made safer. Let the IMO bigwigs and self-styled marine safety gurus wrestle with those issues. We’ll just ask one simple question: If the sea remains a dangerous place and seafaring a dangerous profession, how come there isn’t more empathy toward seamen?

We are reminded of a conversation we had with a young manning CEO many years ago, when we were still a maritime journalist. “My ship officers are lucky,” he told us with a condescending smile on his chubby face. “They get higher salaries than my office managers.” It was a foolish statement from someone who had never sailed and knew not the hardships of a sailor’s life. And yet, the attitude it betrays is still fairly common.

We see the lack of concern and sympathy for seamen in the failure of many crewing agencies in Manila to provide dedicated lounging areas for their ship officers. We see it in the many cases of seafarers whose shipboard wages or dollar allotments to their families are delayed, sometimes for months.  We see it in the way they are exploited by training centres, medical clinics and maritime lawyers. And not least of all, we see it in how maritime cadets aspiring to go to sea are made to work as unpaid office flunkeys by manning agencies and seafarers’ unions.

Those whose who work at sea and face its dangers don’t deserve to be treated so unkindly. ~Barista Uno


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