Der Mönch am Meer (Monk by the Sea). Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)
I have journeyed long enough in the maritime world as a writer to know that things are not always as they seem. Appearances can deceive. Captain Corcoran, one of the main characters in the 1878 comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor, said it well:
Black sheep dwell in every fold;
All that glitters is not gold;
Storks turn out to be but logs;
Bulls are but inflated frogs.
Unfortunately, telling the difference between appearance and reality may not be easy for maritime folks. It is even harder to express one’s views when they run counter to popular opinion. Shipping is a conservative industry, and some organisations are regarded as sacred cows. I have chosen, however, to write candidly, to call a spade a spade.
On the International Maritime Organization (IMO)
The IMO is no ordinary bureaucracy. It is a hegemony. Not content with its power and influence as a rule-making body, it has hijacked issues that properly belong to the International Labour Organization (ILO) — e.g., seafarers’ rights and gender equality. Ironically, it has done nothing to lighten the training overload on ship officers. In contrast to the ILO policy, the IMO won’t even give seafarers free online access to the full texts of the STCW and other IMO conventions that matter to them.
For all the talk about their rights, seafarers remain at the bottom of the maritime food chain, They are preyed upon by motley characters — rogue shipwowners, dishonest manning agents, grasping lawyers, corrupt government employees, slimy fixers, and mendicant relatives. So much for ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, the so-called “bill of rights” for mariners.
On manning agents
Manning agents are among the chief exploiters of seafarers. Skimming money from their remittances is a common practice in Manila. Many agents think seafarers owe them their jobs, but they are really glorified clerks who profit from the sweat and tears of the men and women who toil at sea.
On maritime unions
Maritime unions tend to see themselves as sacred cows, and their officials can be super-sensitive to criticism. Some unions just collect money from the collective wage agreements with shipowners and give little or nothing in tangible benefits to their members.
On seafarer charities
Maritime charity is mostly donations-driven. Many charities drum up certain issues (e.g., depression at sea) in order to secure more donations from corporate entities. In doing their charity work, they tend to make it about themselves and not about the seafarers. READ: Maritime charity in the Age of Selfies
On the maritime press
The maritime press has grown obese from the excessive consumption of press releases. Not many shipping reporters bother to write original, enterprise stories. Cut-and-paste journalism is rampant, and some of the reportage can be pretty sloppy READ: Sloppy news reporting on EMSA Philippine audits