Global Supply Chains Buckle as Virus Variant and Disasters Strike
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By John Konrad (gCaptain) Last week maritime influencer Lena Göthberg published the 165th episode of her popular Shipping Podcast, and the content was shocking. Her guest was the former CEO of Transas and Wallem Group Frank Coles who, in addition to discussing controversial ideas like nuclear ship propulsion, put forth one particularly radical new idea: organizing a global seafarer strike.
“I don’t want it to happen but I think it should be talked about,” said Coles. “We need a global strike of all seafarers because change has never happened without something really bringing the role of the seafarer to the forefront. While we continue to have seafarers who work in squalid and appalling conditions, while nobody in government is willing to stand up, nothing is going to change.”
The idea of a shipping strike is not new. Many consider the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILW) the most powerful union in the United States, and most attribute their success to shutting down America’s largest ports when they believe that longshoremen rights have been violated.
The ILW most recently used this power one year ago when it stopped work to celebrate Juneteeth and stood in solidarity with the BLM movement. Their effort was successful. The logistics chain collapsed which helped shake the nation awake. If the relatively small ILW union can use the fragility of our logistics system to apply huge amounts of political pressure and defeat presidents, what could happen if a portion of the world’s 1+ million seafarers took a page from their book and stopped navigating ships into ports for a week?
Coles, a former seafarer who rose to the rank of master mariner, believes it’s time to stop issuing trite statements about seafarer rights and take action.
Following up on the podcast, Frank wrote the following statement about the IMO’s upcoming Day of The Seafarer, which is an annual event that gets a lot of “feel good PR” but does little to help seafarers obtain respect and basic human rights.
“Friday is yet another IMO Day Of The Seafarer.
“This is going to be week of endless dedications, hailing the seafarers. They will all make their trite and seemingly sincere dedication to the efforts of the seafarers in these challenging times. They will come from all corners of the industry, owners, managers, Class, Clubs, and various other bodies… we have the hot air balloon from IMO already in the air, and V Ships has also followed suit. Obviously we hail the seafarers. But it sticks in my throat when some owners who I personally know have prevented crew changes and switched off crew internet during Covid make statements that they care. (Of course, many others do care and do everything possible and I have seen that also.)
“We need a statement of disgust.
“Sounding the horn should be a cry for action and support for seafarers to take action, not just noise blowing in the wind.
“Seafarers need a way home and a way to join ships, that is simple, healthy and sensible. They need to be recognized for the role they play in the current critical delivery of the supply chain. Government needs to implement an “Ocean Lift” akin to the Berlin Lift to ensure a healthy, safe environment on board the ships and in recognition of the role seafarers play. Getting vaccinated is great but the logistics of reliefs and the human rights issues remain.
“Something needs to change and it won’t happen with a stream of statements of support that have no teeth. “We should be mourning the lack of action not celebrating the weakness of the industry to not take care of its own.”Frank Coles via LinkedIn
This is not the first time a maritime CEO has called for sounding the alarm, but it is probably the first maritime CEO who has ever called for a strike or suggested filing a statement of disgust with the IMO.
Please listen to the podcast episode and if you agree with Frank Coles about the need for a strike, go follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you strongly disagree with Frank, then you certainly may want to follow his next move.
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