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I first learned about the food chain in grade school. What fascinated me then wasn’t so much the fact that the species at the top of the link fed on those below them. It was the idea of interconnectivity and interdependence in the natural world. Many years later, as a shipping and ports journalist, I would discover a more fascinating kind of food chain, one which continues to intrigue me to this day.

The maritime food chain, as I like to call it, has countless players — from the folks who own and manage the ships all the way down to those who actually run and maintain them and load and unload their cargoes. It’s a whole web of commercial relationships made up of, not one, but a myriad of interlocking food chains. Each represents a different sector of the industry — from shipbuilders and marine equipment suppliers to maritime schools and training centres. Though they may not be aware of it, even maritime unions and maritime journalists have a place in this intricate web.

A web of interdependence in the natural world

Seafarers, for obvious reasons, do not occupy a high place in the maritime food chain. Indeed, they usually lie at the very bottom — preyed upon by heartless shipowners and manning agents, corrupt state officials, and unscrupulous training centres. But seafarers can be predators, too. I’ve seen it happen many times before. Officers could mistreat and take advantage of crew members, or seafarers could file unjustified money claims against shipowners.

A world of Interdependence and mutual support or a world of predation? It’s a choice all those involved in the shipping industry make every day.  

This article was first published in Marine Café Blog on 18th April 2014. I am reposting it in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has drawn special attention to the plight of seafarers. ~ BU

~ Barista Uno

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