24 August 2020: photos released by local authorities show the forward section of the 300m long Japanese iron vessel being deliberately sunk at an unknown location in the Indian Ocean. MOBILISATION NATIONALE WAKASHIO
Today is World Maritime Day, and a search of Google News reveals that the IMO has failed during what – because of the fact that more than 300,000 seafarers are currently stranded onboard ships – maybe the most important World Maritime Day ever. They have failed because not one major publication has, so far, picked up on the story.
World Maritime Day is a United Nations sanctioned day of International significance. A day created to highlight the professionalism and sacrifice of the two million seafarers who serve on the world’s merchant fleet. A day to remember that shipping transports more than 80% of world trade.
World Maritime Day 2020 was supposed to highlight environmental change and the plight of mariners stranded at sea. Instead, the IMO needs to recognize that today it has failed.
The United Nations was created after World War II to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors”. They are the ambassadors of international cooperation and goodwill but, in today’s world, international partnership and goodwill have been torn apart by elected officials screaming #FakeNews, social media news manipulation which has helped elect them, and the loss of journalists capable of investigate the issues.
The United Nations is aware of this problem and has invested in working to resolve them but their Maritime branch, the International Maritime Organization, has apparently not received the memo.
Shipping Is Awash With FakeNews
I can think of no place where #fakenews is more prevalent than the maritime industry. Every time a ship incident occurs all the major media outlets flock to the scene and spray then go to their keyboards to spray out a litany of false information and of false assumptions in newspapers, television reports, and tweets that reach billions of people around the world. But what has the IMO, with an over $50 million taxpayer-supported budget, done to resolve this problem? Not much.
Mariners and maritime professionals around the world are keenly aware of the problems in our industry and the fact that big media routinely misrepresents what we do. What most, however, fail to realize is that the laws of maritime nations are rarely changed because of expert objections from inside an industry. No, they are changed by politicians reacting to voter will and it is the media that shapes and strengthens that will.
Today that media is dominated by talking heads but it was once the domain of journalists and London was the heart of maritime journalism.
The History of Maritime News
When this site was founded fifteen years ago you only had three available options to get maritime news. There were real maritime news organizations like Lloyds List, Tradewinds, and Fairplay who employed talented journalists who investigated important stories and published them daily. They held the industry’s feet to the fire. They did good work. The only problem with these organizations is they are costly to run and must charge a high subscription rate that’s well beyond the price mariners can afford.
There were also free magazines, called trade pubs, which also serve an important role. Their purpose was to distribute corporate news mostly about products and services available for purchase. You can think of these as catalogs which give readers information in the hopes they will by the services they write about. That is why these magazines were free. They receive their income from corporations that sell things.
Finally, there were major media outlets like the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. These organizations did not focus on maritime news but did a report on ships frequently. Most of these organizations employed a “dock reporter” whose job was to visit ships along the docks (but also shipping company headquarters) and report on maritime issues that the general public finds interesting.
Then the internet happened and major media outlets quickly retired their dock reporters. The maritime news organizations reacted slow and fought off the transition to digital news. Their unwillingness to go digital caused profits to tumble and massive layoffs stripped their newsrooms of all but a few journalists. Tradepubs move to fill the gap left my maritime news’ reluctance to go digital and started writing news articles despite the fact they don’t employ many journalists. The public became confused about which news organizations to trust.
gCaptian launched early in the digital marketplace. Our business model is different. We are not a tradepub and we do not often write about products or services unless they are truly newsworthy or are clearly marked as “Sponsored Posts“. Like journalists, we do investigate stories but instead of beating the pavement, we invested in a network of forums and internet to collect news-worthy information from the captains on the deck plate and the marine operations managers working inside shipping companies.
Because we invest in tools and because we connect directly to the experts on the scene we are able to keep our costs low enough to survive on advertising. Yet, because of our network, we are able to get real inside information and facts. In more recent years some maritime news companies, like Tradewinds under the keen eye of Julian Bray have found ways to become profitable and have started rehiring journalists. Others like the talented journalist Sam Chambers at Splash 24/7 and The Loadstar, have mixed together the gCaptain model with traditional journalism with great success.
RELATED ARTICLE: This Is How Important Articles About The Maritime Industry Are Researched And Written
Meanwhile, nefarious players have also entered the market. Certain new media outlets have noted the success of FakeNews outlets and have copied their business model. They have gathered huge followings on Facebook by using click-bate and fakenews to gain followers.
The IMO’s Involvement In Real News
The IMO has a mandate to promote goodwill across the industry but, unfortunately, they have taken the road of the trade publications, by not helping journalists but instead publishing press releases which trade publications copy and paste as real news. They also create ‘media event’s, like World Maritime Day, which are not real news but rather are days on the calendar which the IMO declares to be a big news day.
The biggest day of the year for the IMO is World Maritime Day, which is today. While this is technically fakenews it does serve a positive purpose. In the past, the IMO has been successful in “raising awareness” among the major media outlets (i.e. the ones which most voters read) about the importance of shipping.
They have also used this fake news day to highlight issues of real importance. Last year, for example, was the year of the woman mariner. IMO teamed up with some of our favorite women social media activists and NGO leaders and created little news events around the world. It was somewhat effective and gCaptain applauded the effort.
The problem, however, is these events are engineered to only show the positive side of the news and don’t engage real journalists who can dig into these stories and truly move the reader. gCaptain itself was cofounded and is co-owned by a woman who attended a maritime academy and worked for years aboard ships. A woman who has been behind the scenes investigating and promoting the stories of women mariners for more than a decade. Cindy Konrad. Did the IMO reach out to her? No. They flew women ambassadors around the world to promote women in shipping but did they hold a real conference with hard-hitting women journalists asking questions to solve real challenges faced by women at sea? Did they replace the men in their leadership ranks with women? Did they even engage talented maritime women journalists in their back yard, like London based TheLoadStar’s brilliant journalist cofounder Alex Lennane?
The IMO happily engages with numerous Public Relations firms that specialize in promoting corporate news and corporate interests but they don’t’ engage with real journalists. Some on the journalist I’ve talked with think it’s because they are corrupt to the interests of ship owners but I haven’t found hard evidence of that. Maybe the reason they don’t invite us to their self-congratulatory Gallas dinners and call us by phone because they know we just don’t care to promote fakenews?
Worse still when a real journalist, like BBC veteran, Forbes contributor, Harvard, and Oxford Alumni Nishan Degnarain, contacted them for questions, they had a PR representative respond with mundane answers. When he asked to interview committee chairmen they agree only to an interview with their lawyer.
It’s easy to say that the IMO has more important things to do during COVID than help journalists but when the delays caused Degnarain to publish his important article without IMO support, the IMO worked hard to galvanize the organization against him.
A Vacuum of Leadership
Right now we are facing an unprecedented amount of problems. Entire segments of our industry have a shutdown. Incident rates at sea are skyrocketing. Hundreds of thousands of mariners are jobless or stuck at sea. And even wealthy shipowners are begging for the IMO for the same information and action that journalists are seeking. And some of us are literally crying for help.
The IMO needs to take action on these issues, they need to lead the world in solving the seafarer crisis. They need to work with journalists who care. Instead, they just issue press releases saying that somebody needs to take action.
And even that’s not working anymore. In a typical year, several major media outlets pick up on World Maritime Day and write about the concerns IMO presents – last year several major outlets helped promote our industry’s critical need for more women – but today I look at google news and can’t find a single non-maritime media outlet that is writing about World Maritime Day.
The IMO says that women need to be put in leadership roles but, now a year later, they haven’t done much to lead by example. They say that someone needs to take action to solve the mariner crisis. My question to the IMO is, if not you then who?
As explained in my article This Is NOT A Drill, our industry is, first and foremost, suffering from a serious leadership vacuum. A vacuum so severe that the Pope is calling for immediate action.
“The fact that the Pope has felt it necessary to intercede twice this year in shipping affairs,” says maritime journalist Richard Meade, “First on behalf of seafarers stuck at sea, then with a loaded call to respect nature in the wake of the Wakashio imbroglio, is a telling indictment of where we find ourselves as an industry right now.”
I am not calling for IMO to do any less. I truly hope the IMO continues promoting World Maritime Day, continues it’s maritime woman ambassador program, continues being the effective technical UN body it’s always been. Continue issuing statements in support of stranded mariners.
I’m asking for the IMO to do more and suggesting they start with these three issues:
Women: Lead by example in the issue of women. Put more women in leadership roles at the IMO and encourage members states and NGO to send more woman delegates. Bring female journalists into your ambassador program.
The Maritime Press: Engage the press. Help maritime journalists investigate stories. Work with us to find solutions to problems you are working on. Stand up. Record honest videos, request interviews. Call us, don’t wait for us to call you. Have your leaders use the maritime press as a platform of change.
The Global Press: The IMO has the technical knowledge, expertise, and connections to help media get the story right. Go look for mistakes during major incidents. Don’t publish non-specific condemnations of mistakes in print. Instead, go to the journalists directly and offer to help them get the story right. Be open. Be transparent. Be the expert body that you are.
The next question is how? How does the IMO engage with journalists? Well, the first step is to call us. Not just gCaptain but all the important maritime news outlets. Then hire the experts who are best equipped to help andwhould be easy because many of those journalists who were laid off from the big London based maritime news organizations are eager to get back into the game. Hire them IMO. Let them be your next cadre of global ambassadors. Just, after you hire them, don’t handcuff them to legal and HR restrictions. Empower them to find mistakes the media is making. Empower them to work with journalists to correct those mistakes. Empower them to disseminate the truth about our wonderful and important industry!
Don’t attack journalists. Empower them.
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