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A deepfelt worry for those at sea

Carl Martin Faannessen, the CEO of Noatun Maritime, on the danger of the mental ‘infinite loop’ which leads to lack of focus and demotivation. And what happens if seafarers start buckling.

Bear with me as I start this with two separate strands of thought, hoping to splice them into mooring for a deepfelt worry.

First, “The population of the state need not be much increased, since there is no necessity that sailors should be citizens.” That’s from Aristotle, almost 2,500 years ago, as I wrote in an earlier instalment yesterday. It’s just like today: Every nation wants the service of the seafarers, they just don’t want them.

Second, the world’s toughest race is a race where participants run a one-mile circuit over and over and over. The banner across the finish-line has been amended to state: “There is no finish”. Every time you pass that line, a bell jingles. The race is over when there is only one person left running. Participants call this the most tortuous race on the planet. They keep going and going, and it’s the same over and over and always that jarring bell.

What do these two seemingly disparate stories have to do with the maritime community in general and seafarers in particular?

The people at sea have always been the ones being rounded off, being conveniently deprived and sometimes outright deceived. Yet, every time the world needs them, they rise. During WWII, the war was fought and supplied on the watery graves of thousands of seafarers. And how were the surviving seafarers treated after the war was over? Tossed aside as so much human wreckage. And wrecks many of them were.

Fast-forward to the present day, and we again see that the world relies on seafarers. Shelves are stocked, steelworks work, grain is delivered to support feed and food, the oil-chem industry is delivering. In the background is the humble seafarer. While they are not facing battle, carnage and death, many of them are trapped in a loop of carrying out their duties with no reassurance of when it will end. I can only imagine the anguish experienced by Indian seafarers on hearing stories from home of a society being stretched to its limits. This story is repeated across the Indonesian and Filipino seafarer communities. The mental strain is significant.

18 months ago, every owner I’ve ever worked with would sign off a seafarer on the spot out of compassion. Today, these owners can’t, no matter how much they want to. They have crew onboard with severely ill family-members or parents. We haven’t yet had a major accident due to minds being focused on those at home rather than on the task at hand, and this speaks to the professionalism of the seafarers. These seafarers need all the support we can muster. Today, they are the Atlas carrying the world’s logistics on their shoulders.

And in almost every port they call they are now told the same: Your services, yes. You, no.

They are caught in an endless series of repeats: Call a port, don’t sign off, cargo operations, leave the port, call the next port, don’t sign off, repeat. And at home is a seafarer who looks at his diminishing bank balance.

2021 was the year when we all thought it would get better, that those keeping the wheels of commerce turning would see a return to a more structured world. Instead, the exact opposite is happening: From one day to the next, governments impose increasingly difficult gauntlets to run. All in the name of “protecting the citizens”.

I worry what happens when Atlas buckles or shrugs. And I worry that it will take something more than a near-miss to hammer home how critical this is becoming.

Comments

  1. It is very heartening to read the words of someone of the stature of Carl Martin and how true they are. I hope this will not only by echoed by other ‘bigwigs’ and ‘stalwarts’ of the maritime industry, but serious, concerted and positive action is taken to take seafarers out of these dire straits.

    Atlas is carrying the world on its huge and strong shoulders right now. But make no mistake – they are human and made of flesh and bone like the rest of humanity. Seafarers are true professionals. They have not even shrugged yet although they are crying out to be heard. They will indeed buckle when they can bear the stress no more. As an ex-seafarer, I say, please do not let seafarers feel that pain – the world will indeed know the value of seafarers then.

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