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The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a fertile ground for maritime buzzwords and rhetoric. Somebody shouted ‘Crew Change!” and suddenly everyone is mouthing the same slogan. Interestingly, the word “repatriation” is hardly ever mentioned. But that is exactly what seafarers who are stranded at sea urgently need: to be brought back to their home countries and be with their loved ones. The following are some specimens of the kind of language which has sprouted during the pandemic. There is nothing wrong with slogans and speeches — as long as they are not, to borrow Shakespeare’s words in his play Macbeth, all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Why is it necessary to declare seafarers as key workers before all those concerned do their duty of repatriating them as required under ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006? The slogan also smacks of prejudice. What about all the other groups of workers (including the barista at your favourite coffeehouse) without whose services a country’s economy could grind to a halt?

To be cooped up on board a ship for months after one’s contract has ended requires a heroic spirit. But to call seafarers “heroes at sea” is rubbing salt on the wound. The way they have been treated during this pandemic is no way to treat heroes.

The secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Aside from presiding over general meetings of the UN agency, he has to routinely issue statements and deliver speeches.

Words, words, words. What has the IMO done to ease the training burden on seafarers and enhance their welfare?

Bureaucrats want to appear in touch with current developments. They will welcome anything that will make them look good and relevant.

During the pandemic, some maritime charities are putting their money where their mouth is. The International Seafarers’ Welfare Assistance Network is offering a two-day mental health awareness course for management-level personnel on shore and on board ships. It costs £125 per participant ($166.47). Charities also have to make money, you know.

~ Barista Uno

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