The following is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on Marine Café Blog on 20th July 2021.

It’s interesting how the plight of seafarers can be encapsulated in a single word. The following list of transitive verbs (action words with a direct object) provides good examples. The words tell some of the ways seafarers are exploited or mistreated. I have defined each one with specific reference to seafarers, illustrating how the word is used with an example sentence.

abandon: to stop providing support to a ship’s crew and letting them fend for themselves without pay and necessary provisions

They were all on the brink of starvation after being abandoned by the vessel’s owner.

bilk: to get money from a seafarer unfairly or through deceit

They introduce more trainingr requirements to bilk more money from seafarers.

blacklist: to put a seafarer on a list of those who are undesirable and shouldn’t be hired

The poor chap got blacklisted for reporting shipboard malpracitces to the ITF.

commodify: to treat or regard seafarers as commodities (as something useful that can be turned to advantage or profit)

The extent to which seafarers have been commodified is appalling.

criminalise: to treat seafarers as criminals in case of a marine accident or to impose on them criminal penalties that are uncalled for

There has been a tendency to criminlatise ship captains for accidents that are apparently the act of God.

defraud: to take money illegally from seafarers through deception

The manning agent defrauded applicants with false promises of employment.

deprive: to prevent a seafarer from having or enjoying something, especially something which is necessary or to which he is entitled

Seafarers are deprived of free online access to the full text of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

“Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”


— Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

exploit: to use seafarers for one’s own selfish end or benefit (usually financial)

Some maritime unions are the first to exploit seafarers.

harass: to subject a seafarer to initimidation, uncalled-for pressure or hostile remarks over a period of time

The able-seaman was continually harassed by the despotic captain.

hoodwink: to deceive or trick a seafarer

The cadet was hoodwinked into believing that he could sail in just a few weeks if he served as unpaid errand boy in the agency.

intimidate: to frighten a seafarer with threats so he will comply with what one wishes him to do or not do

The ship’s crew was intimidated into silence regarding the many abuses on board.

overburden: to give seafarers more work or tasks than they can deal with

Today’s ship officers are overburdened with paperwork.

short-change: to cheat seafarers by giving them less money than what they should receive (in ordinary usage, to give a buyer less change than what he should get)

The manning agent routinely short-changed the crew in the conversion of their dollar remittances to the local currency.

skim: to steal money from seafarers in small amounts over time so that the stealing is not so obvious

They thought nothing of skimming money from seafarers’ remittances.

stonewall: to give a seafarer a hard time by refusing to answer questions or by being evasive in order to delay or obstruct

His manning agency stonewalled him every time he followed up his claim for back wages.

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