People in the shipping world love talking, and they are infatuated with words. How else can one explain the never-ending string of maritime conferences; the highfalutin awards dinner speeches; and the Day of the Seafarer slogans warbled by officials of IMO London and echoed by just about everyone in shipping?

This is not to undervalue the importance of language. But the words, spoken or written, that flow out of the shipping world often tend to sweeten reality. The offshoot: a disconnection from actuality that is fairly obvious save for unthinking folks. The following should illustrate the point:

It is not my wont
to utter hollow words, and speak resolves
Like verses bandied in a madrigal.
I spoke in action first

— George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy (1868)


What they say: Seafarers are “heroes of global trade”.

The reality: They are martyrs of global trade.

What they say: Seafarers are “out of sight but never out of mind”.

The reality: They are always on the minds of those who profit from them.

ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006

What they say: ILO MLC 2006 is “a milestone” in the protection of the rights and well-being of seafarers.

The reality: The Convention lacks teeth, and the litany of sins committed against seafarers is still quite long.

Manning agents

What they say: Manning agents “should ensure they provide an efficient, adequate and accountable system that protects and promotes seafarer employment rights”.

The reality: They are often the first violators of seafarers’ rights.

Maritime awards

What they say: Wining a maritime award is “like winning an Oscar”.

The reality: Maritime awards are a dime a dozen. They reflect a culture of backslapping, of superficial praise and quid pro quos.

Maritime charities

What they say: Maritime charities provide “a listening ear” and “emotional support” to seafarers.

The reality: They also like to drum up their good deeds and post selfies on social media.

Shipping press

What they say: The shipping press is essential for “effecting change” and  “enforcing standards of governance”.

The reality: It often serves as an echo chamber for PR agencies and is rarely critical of the maritime establishment, especially the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

~ Barista Uno

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