Over the weekend a thread by an Indian seafarer who goes by the handle @deven_sailor went viral on Twitter, arguing why it was crazy seafarers had not yet been termed essential workers. Here is the ‘rant’ in full.
We seafarers are working in a dreamy world run by owners and dictated by charterers, where cargo and owner interests rein supreme. The hardworking seafarer is a nobody – a guy for whom a symbolic day has been marked in way of a symbolic celebration in shiny offices with expensive champagne in shinier glasses. He takes no benefits and no paeans are sung for him. He is one amongst the lost tribe in a world where visibility is all that matters. “Jo dikhta hai, woh bikta hai,” as the adage goes.
The industry has been brought up such as to benefit the one and only thing which is the very motivation behind the profession – making money. If you think it is easy money, then you are a fool in no kind words. If you think it’s hard-earned money, then you do not even have a mellow inkling. Though times have changed and the only people making money are, well, you-know-who.
The IMO lacks any teeth; it can’t enforce anything. It formulates guidances and passes on the bowl for pennies. Governments pick up the bowl and throws in a penny or two if they so choose to spare.
You see, everybody wants trade to happen; that’s how an economy runs. But nobody cares for the delivery guy. The delivery guy scrapes and skims off the shards he’s offered. No sir, he doesn’t steal for he’s too proud to succumb to such base pitfalls. He works hard because he wants to do a good job – everybody does. He wants his pay on time, a full stomach, a good night’s rest and he’s at it again the next morning. He works away, grinds away, crawls through and jumps hoops as he’s dictated. He is a wretch, a castaway in a world that doesn’t even know he exists. He’s the seafarer with calloused hands, wobbly sea-knees and dirty, greasy coveralls and yet, the ever beaming smile.
I’m not writing this in vain and have no intention to paint a pretty picture where there isn’t one. It pains me to see fellow seafarers treated with such disregard and carelessness, being turned a blind eye to. For the governments – in the political milieu, we don’t exist, because we are not a voter base. Though many yearn to vote and take part in the nation building process, few are able to partake. Even if we add up enough numbers, we are too widely distributed to be able to turn the tide.
Very few know that 90% of the global trade passes through the sea. The phones you hold, all your Made-in-China products, every fancy electronics you own, the fuel you burn, the cooking oil, kosher salt and sugar for your tea has passed through containers, deep-bellied tankers and bulk carriers. Yet, the landlubbers are largely, for no fault of their own, ignorant. We in India have not been a particularly trail-blazing, trend-setting, technologically savvy maritime nation either. No wonder, the biggest and grandest and most prolific ship construction yards do not belong to us. In fact, to reach such proportions as practiced by traditional shipbuilding and seafaring nations like Denmark, Greece, Singapore, Sweden, UK, China and South Korea, et al, requires a lot of work, a ton of interest and sheer will power. For starters, if you are reading this, and have never seen the sea up-close, please do try and travel to the nearest coastline and marvel at the amount of water this planet holds. Do you know what is the cheapest form of transport in the world? Ships, of course. What else can transport gargantuan amounts of anything you can possibly imagine silently and safely across the globe without a scratch and without a dent in your pockets in relative terms.
Running these ships is not easy in such volatile environments – the best or the worst of which you might have been able to see on popular video archives. Ships have an ecology of their own. Quite self-sufficient to say the least, they do require fuel to run and provisions to feed the crew that works day in and out to keep the ship in pristine conditions to match industry standards and consistently meet demanding delivery schedules. All this takes a toll on the hard-working seafarer. He doesn’t get a stable environment to rest his senses, he fights hard to get decent sleep in violent seas, he yearns to speak to his family back home and for 20 MB of expensive data connection to entertain himself. Luxuries you take for granted are still required to be fought for out there in the churning oceans. The seafarer works hard and expects nothing in return, except timely relief so that he may quietly go home, rest and rejuvenate himself amongst his loved ones. Life at sea takes a heavy mental toll, especially because of commercial pressure, unending work hours, isolation and irregular sleep patterns.
Who does one blame for all this combined and accumulated misery that has been piling up? The answers are not easy but the direction is clearer than ever before. The seafarer must be accorded the essential worker status and brought at par and recognised for the gruel he suffers through and for whom. All this, simply to help keep him sane and keep ships running smoothly around the globe. At times of crisis, supply lines are more important than ever. No army stands a chance in the battlefield with their supply lines cut off. Then why are the world leaders unable to hear the voices and pleas emanating from out at sea and the horror bells being rung at global shipping forums. Strong veritable steps must be taken sooner than ever, or else, we’d see ships turning into classic psychological study cases for future graduates. Ah, the future, of course, when your fancy laptops and mobiles would cost a bomb, assuming you can afford the transportation costs. The food palate having considerably reduced and who knows, you might have already sold your car because you can’t afford the fuel. Good for the planet, no?!