Frank Coles CEO

Frank Coles, former CEO of Transas and Wallem Group. Image Via Frank Coles

Frank Coles: Out of Sight Means Out of Mind

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November 30, 2021

By Frank Coles

Over the last four months I have been lucky enough to travel between South Carolina and Key West on my own boat. We called at a number of ports and at each port I was able to go ashore and enjoy the facilities. Of course I was on a leisure boat and not going International. The thing is that the rights and facilities I enjoyed were actually the same I enjoyed when I was at sea in the merchant navy.

Over the years, as the rest of the world’s workforce have enjoyed better working conditions and benefits, seafarers have actually been denied less access to basic human rights and endured more restrictions on them. Things have gotten worse, not better. Poor or no medical attention, little or no rest and recuperation time ashore, longer contracts and denial of flights home, the list is long and shameful.

I sailed past the Savannah River twice this summer. On both occasions, there were around 14 ships anchored waiting to go up the river. The good thing was they were but 10 miles from the shore. In cell range, near medical attention, and able to anchor for needed rest and any repair work needed.

Yet in California they have come up with this idea that ships drift 150 miles offshore. I can’t quite determine who actually came up with the idea? Maybe that’s by design, because it is about as dumb as anything in maritime operations this year.

Personally I don’t see the ships as the issue in the supply chain discussion, it seems clear to me that the bottleneck is the port and clearance into the hinterland. If it was the ships, you could do what they do in Hong Kong, use barges to off load containers. But that would create another set of labour union bottlenecks.

So let’s move the ships out of sight. The people ashore won’t see them, the authorities won’t see them. The press can’t see them to photograph them. Out of sight means out of mind, an all too familiar feeling for a seafarer. So now you are out of cell phone range, out of medical support range, drifting with the need to keep your engines on short notice. Yet another attack on human rights and seafarers ability to have some element of normalcy.

Black Friday shopping means everyone is spending. The Omicron variant knee jerk reaction means for some people the long awaited Christmas reunions are in jeopardy. For seafarers it will mean possibly delayed relief and continued disruption of their work life balance. But never mind, out of sight means out of mind.

Additional Reading: Marine Exchange: New Ship Queueing Process at Los Angeles and Long Beach is Working

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