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Captain George Livingstone: Blowin’ in the Wind

George H Livingstone
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July 20, 2020

Photo: d13 / Shutterstock

By Captain George Livingstone – I have not done a column for a while; it just did not seem I had anything to offer that was more important than what has been unfolding before us these last few months. I have always believed that good writing guards against personal basis, just present the case and let the reader decide. The combined COVID-19 and BLM crises have challenged that along with a whole lot of other beliefs. If recent events have not made you pause and self-reflect, then I would venture nothing ever will. I certainly felt a need for pause and reflection. Self-reflection is self-healing; it leads to awareness and awareness opens the door to possibility and then hope. We can get to a better place, but not without self-reflection, uncomfortable conversations, and will.

What about marine transportation? Should we be having uncomfortable conversations? Do we have the collective will? It is not just race and gender questions. It is not news that marine transportation, along with other professions, has struggled with race and gender issues. As in law enforcement are there other issues?

One would have to live in a cave to have not noticed the nearly crushing national crisis law enforcement is facing in the United States. The following is apparently divisive but consider for a moment the possibility that the majority of those in law enforcement are honorable, hard-working individuals interested in doing what is best for the community. For a whole lot of folks, that is a hard premise to swallow. For myself, I honestly believe it to be true, honorable, hard-working men and women who care about what they do and how they do it. There is no argument, however, that there have been appalling, individual crimes committed by law enforcement officers in the name of the law. That does not mean the system is corrupt, it means individuals are corrupt. If that is true, then what is the problem? The problem is a culture of collective silence that has protected bad cops from justice. In the face of overwhelming cultural pressure to not rat out bad cops, good cops remained silent. The very opposite would have saved the reputation of law enforcement and changed history.

Like law enforcement, I believe most professional mariners are honorable, hard-working and interested in doing what is best for the greater community, The Public Trust. Like law enforcement, I believe there is a small percentage who are so bad as to, at times, threaten the reputation of the entire profession.

Most professional mariners understand the profoundly serious responsibilities attached to the job. We are engaged in vital worldwide trade and commerce. We acknowledge the expectation to do no harm to either people or the environment. We understand the need to improve over a career due to ever-increasing liabilities associated with harming the environment. We all know or have known, however, individual mariners who do not care or think of greater responsibility, who do not care to become better, who do not even look out for their own colleagues, never mind the greater public and communities they call on, work with and serve.

Like law enforcement, there is a culture of collective silence among professional mariners. Understand that does not refer to mistakes, we all make mistakes. A mistake is one thing, for me, there have been many. But what of willful disregard for the responsibility and trust put upon us by the public that we serve? Or casual disregard of one’s own colleagues putting it on the line for the greater good every day throughout a career? Those who are dismissive and cavalier about incidents and accidents they have been involved with? What of those?

Whether a bargemen on the Rhine, a tanker mate sailing the Atlantic, a pilot on the mighty Amazon, a container ship captain sailing the Pacific east to west and back again, a towboat pilot on Mark Twain’s mighty Mississippi, do you stay silent? For all that you give up and sacrifice, do you remain quiet? Wait until the day one of those very few among us colors our entire profession in an ill light?

Perhaps five years ago the answer would have been yes. One year ago, six months ago? Yes. Today? Maybe not. Not if we self-reflect, not if we have hard conversations, not if we learn from the events unfolding before our eyes. The world has changed, we have to decide, what to hang on to and what to let go of. We all have a choice, participate in change or watch it happen.

To more arrivals than departures

Captain George Livingstone is a San Francisco Bar Pilot, co-author of ‘Tug Use Offshore’, contributing author of ‘IMPA On Pilotage’ and a regular contributor to gCaptain.

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