ship crew-change covid19 pandemic

Ship crew change during the COVID19 Pandemic. Photo courtesy International Maritime Organization

Opinion: Pathetic Maritime, Its Reactions and Reality

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August 2, 2021

By Frank Coles

If you don’t like direct, brash or in your face, stop reading now. You may not like or even agree with what I am going to say but it is my opinion and I have a right to say it. It’s called free speech and I don’t live in Hong Kong anymore.

Obviously, not everything I am going to comment on applies to all ship owners, managers, and charterers, etc., but the fact they don’t do something about it makes them culpable. Of course, they will say they are doing this and that, but in truth, these are half-hearted statements and tongue-in-cheek actions designed to pacify the unions.

I know all the excuses and reasons and have heard the opinions about why maritime is how it is, but it’s simply not good enough. How is it justifiable that an industry that carries 80% of world trade and is doing it in ships worth millions of dollars is not able to influence governments to provide a proper manner of treating the workers in the industry?

Many of today’s seafarers are effectively economically press-ganged into going to sea. They are then abused and bullied into signing extensions and held on board way beyond their contractual time. Yet none of the global influencers, like BHP, Rio, Shell, and many others have taken a stand. I mean really taken a stand. They choose to not own ships and put pressure on the owners. The same tactic that is used when they pay peanuts for charters and yet expect gold star crew and service.

How many executives in these companies would let their offspring go to sea in the current environment? Would they put them on board a ship and say, “Ciao, see you in 15 months.”? Oh, and by the way, you won’t get shore leave, or medical treatment and you may well be bullied and harassed and sexually attacked. Let’s not trot out the female Captain of a cruise ship or a social media star in Maersk. Admirable as these are in their competence and to be admired, they are pawns in the game of marketing.

The industry is sick. Its human rights record is pretty poor. Covid has only heightened the mistreatment of the mariners and the leadership has done nothing. I don’t expect IMO to do anything meaningful, it is not structured to do anything, and it is toothless.

In my recent efforts to get a petition raised, I was called by several people in Washington, they had noticed and it was being discussed. I even heard from the State Department. Turns out IMO has drafted a protocol to get sailors home and for fair treatment. It won’t see the light of day this year, and even if it does, what good will it do? We need governments to understand that all this trade is because of the forced labor of the press-ganged mariners. Long story short… nothing is happening right now.

Meanwhile, Delta is going nuts. This sucker is not dead yet and if we think 2020 was bad for seafarers, the next 12 months could become worse. If that’s the case you will thank me for calling for a strike, because unless we resolve this matter and get some global travel consensus and protocol we could have a meltdown. How long do you think it is okay to bully and abuse and used forced labor to operate the world trade lanes? I know the ITF thinks I am wrong on the strike, and that it will hurt seafarers on FoC ships, but it can’t be much worse than it already is. Read the Happiness Index and think about the seafarers leaving in droves…. It is pretty clear that only action that hurts the pocket gets results, the discussion on shipping costs is showing us that… so time for action, but what kind of action is going to be?

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