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Luca della Robbia’s Cantoria. Photo credit: Ricardo André Frantz

Manila is gearing up to celebrate National Seafarers Day on the 28th of September. The programme kicks off the Sunday before. Amongst other activities will be a grand parade; an ecumenical rite at sea; a seafarers’ congress; awards to model cadets; and karaoke singing and on-the-spot painting contests. It sounds like fun, but don’t count on us hieing off to the city and joining the merrymaking.

How can maritime folks in Manila celebrate National Seafarers Day whilst continuing to use cadets or nautical college graduates as maritime flunkeys (unpaid office help)? We’ve seen how these young men and women are made to serve coffee to visitors; wash dishes and clean the toilet; drive for the company boss; and run all kinds of errands for the office staff. It’s a disgraceful practice that demeans not only the individual but the merchant marine profession as well.

Oddly enough, nobody save us has openly questioned the maritime flunkey system. Not the manning agents. Not the unions. Not the maritime press. And not even the Church-based NGOs. Should we be surprised? In the world’s ship manning capital, the exploitation of seafarers starts before they board their first vessel. ~Barista Uno


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