Black Lives Matter and maritime

Santosh Patil takes shipping – and Splash – to task on diversity. 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement underscores the fact that the scourge of racism is still well entrenched within us and is far from being rooted out. This evil, manifests itself around us on a daily basis, whether we turn a blind eye or not.

It makes one wonder why, after all these centuries, we are still as bigoted a species as we were before we became ‘civilised’. While in the western world racism may be displayed against blacks, browns, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, it exists in many non-western countries in some form or the other.

In India, for example, black students from African countries often face racism and some of India’s own citizens from the North East are targeted too. Skin whitening creams are a multibillion-dollar industry in India and parts of Asia. Those with a dark skin are made to feel inferior by adverts which promote fair skin as a beauty standard. Unilever recently changed the name of its product from ‘Fair and Lovely’ to ‘Glow and Lovely’; but continues to sell the product as if the name change was a panacea. There remains a grammar issue in the new name, but we are not going there.

The publications that espouse diversity, garnering much needed ‘equality likes’ through all their social media channels, do not seem to have diversity amongst their top positions. Check the editors of most tier 1 or tier 2 maritime publications and you will get the picture

Recently I read an article on Medium written by Bill Dovie on slavery and learnt how the London insurers treated slaves as mere ‘goods’. Even more surprising was that one of the highest law officials in UK at that time – a solicitor general  -considered black slaves as equivalent to a commodity like ‘wood’. Nothing can make your blood boil more than reading about such institutionalised hatred and prejudice amongst those who considered themselves a ‘superior’ race over the others.

This brings me to consider the maritime context as shipping was the primary transport means and an enabler of slave trade. By now many of us have seen the true ‘colours’ of Edward Colston, who, until recently was known as a famous philanthropist to most people in Bristol. The supporting industries like the famous London insurers too played an active role, but that was the past (or so we believe). So why did it take an uproar, a large number of protests on the street and more than hundreds of years for London insurers to admit the mistakes of their past? Until now, they were either a) okay with their past or b) did not wish to acknowledge their past mistakes, at least publicly. Perhaps it was only to manifest themselves as an organisation which respects diversity and inclusion that they resorted to this PR exercise, if that is what it is. How many more such skeletons are hidden in the corporate cupboards remains to be seen.

Is racism rampant even today within shipping? To delve further into this, one need to consider amongst the largest maritime companies and their diversity initiatives. How much diversity exists within the Boards in top shipping companies? Surely you will see an odd black or Asian face thrown in for good measure, but don’t be mistaken; for the real power resides solely with the clique.

If one considers maritime publications; how much racial diversity and inclusion can you see in within the editors or editorial boards? The publications that espouse diversity, garnering much needed ‘equality likes’ through all their social media channels, do not seem to have diversity amongst their top positions. Check the editors of most tier 1 or tier 2 maritime publications and you will get the picture.

Most maritime publications focus on diversity from the perspective of gender but rarely one sees any narrative on ethnic diversity. There is enough chatter on the need for gender diversity in maritime, and rightly so, but how much debate does one see in matters of racial diversity? Google it yourself.

The report of the Diversity Study Group published in May 2020 highlights the ‘lack of ethnic diversity at C-suite, director and head of department level, with respondents identifying as white comprising by far the largest proportion of these roles’. This is, to my knowledge, perhaps the first and only decent attempt at highlighting the lack of ethnic diversity within shipping and maritime industry and is indeed a welcome initiative. Guess how maritime publications covered this report when it was out? The slant was much more on gender disparity and race was but a mere mention, no surprises there.

I don’t deny that the debate must be more nuanced, and the issue is not black and white (pardon the pun). There is indeed a historical context to this as Europe controlled the bulk of shipping trade over centuries during the period of colonisation. Europe continues to have major stakes in shipping worldwide. The purpose of this article is not meant to criticise any specific race or group of people as racism is omnipresent. However, unless we look at the stark realities of where we stand, acknowledge them, discuss and debate about it, we will continue to brush it under the carpet; and this will be a great disservice to such an important, truly global and diverse industry.

Is shipping finally addressing its diversity issue? That’s one of the questions posed in the latest MarPoll, Splash’s quarterly topical survey. To vote takes just two minutes and there is no registration. To vote, click  here


  1. Garbage, devoid of facts or historical context. The overwhelming majority of crew, and senior staff ashore, are not European. The largest shipping companies in the world have their HQs in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Singapore and Japan.
    Not only that, but all countries in the world, bar none, practised slavery worldwide. Including Europe, on it’s own people. The slave trade to the Americas sold Irish people at a cheaper price than African people because they didn’t ‘last as long’ in the climate of the USA. Not because of racial ideology, but because that was what was legal and considered normal by all countries at the time. African slaves were rarely captured by Europeans, and were mostly purchased from other Africans. The modern slave trade today, is still most prevalent in Africa.
    Only the UK fought to end slavery, and the British Royal Navy fought and captured any slave ship it came across and returned the slaves to Africa, thereby ending the Atlantic Slave trade.
    If you want to talk about slavery, why not talk about the 40 million people currently held as slaves today!? Those people have real problems, that deserve your attention. Stop whining about not being a CEO of a massive shipping corporation, and pay attention to what you can change, please.
    I’m disappointed in Spalsh publishing this neo-communist, inflammatory drivel. This encourages race baiting and bigotry of the worst kind, and it’s hilarious you think this applies to the international shipping industry.

    1. Dear Mr Scott, I read your piece of rebuttal and I am taking up the cudgels for Mr. Patil who wrote the article..I don’t know what is your professional background.. but I have handled Operations for Sealand Services, USA and Maersk, Denmark, for over 25 years and I can tell you..that racism exists in the Shipping Industry.. the Same job, some responsibilities, better qualifications. and knowledge.. non-American and Danish, gets far less than their counterparts. in terms of salary and other benefits.. It still exists..Top jobs always went to “Goras” ( local slang for whites) which is nothing but racism. Going further, even an Afro-American would get less than a white American for the same job. How would you define that?? If they had Headquarters in Asian countries, it is not because they loved Asians but it a matter of convenience! So don’t pull wool over our eyes.. Don’t put all the European countries in the same bracket as main culprits like UK, Spain, Portugal, and, Dutch nd French. British history of slavery includes 10000 voyages for slave trade with.4.5 million slaves transported. Only Uk royal navy fought and captured slave ships.. wow.. news to me.. Alex Halley who wrote “Roots” must be turning in his own grave.. Do perpetrators become the savior of the poor? what a logic. Agree that slavery exists in every country in many forms but not as brazen as the above imperial dynasties..The UK even erected the statue of a slave trader elevating him as a philanthropist. That sucks.. Few European countries which invaded rest of the counties of the world and looted their riches have written their laws to legalize slavery and you are ok with it?? All these so-called rich developed western countries built their economy on the back of colonialism and imperialism which is nothing but racism in naked form.. Now don’t tell us that ” finders are keepers.. What UK has done to India during their colonial rule is absolutely insane. Over the centuries, they looted a rich nation and turned it into a pauper country.. And they still have the audacity to keep the coveted ” crown jewellery” Kohinoor diamond which shows their stupid mindset of hanging to their loot and they have the temerity to advise others.. Here I don’t agree with Indian politician Mr Shashi Taroor who gave a speech at Oxford asking Britain to give us reparations of one pound a year for the next 200 years after the last 200 years of Britain in India. I would rather ask Britain to pay one Billion a year for the next 200 year of the colonial rule by them..I advise you to go and read/or watch Shashi Tharoor’s brilliant take on British rule of India for over 200 years which was nothing but slavery of a different kind.. I will also blame Churchill for the death of millions of Indians due to starvation in British induced famines. Churchill diverted the food from India to the war front. Had it not for the USA joining the allies during the II world war, Hitler’s soldiers would have invaded Britain and the lot of you who are born then would have termed as bastards produced by them.. You have raised the question of 40 million people currently held as slaves today.. What are you doing about it?? Did your Royal Navy went to sleep after rescuing so-called slave ships in the bygone era?? Get on your rowing boat man.. go rescue them.. No one is whining about not being CEO of any Shipping Co. It is about parity.. It is about respect ..Yes, slavery is everywhere. It is very much alive and kicking here in India too. What we need is change in mindset,, It is one of the legacies left behind by British.. the past masters of this land.. The Masters and the slaves.. You just can’t wish away.. For all the lectures the US gives to rest of the world including India, they are the Torchbearers of slave bigotry in the current world.. Look at the way White cops kills black men in that land with impunity.. Why don’t you go and lecture Trump at white house?.. the buck stops there..

  2. India in the XXI century is “colonized” by indian crew managers, who have no other purpose than to make money. Their attitude is as arbitrary and despotic as that of the 17th century colonial government.

    Currently, hundreds of thousands of Indians are expulsed from their homes to remain stranded on foreign ships. Indian government does NOTHING!!

    1. Hello Captain Haddock.. looks like you have written this comment after having a couple of pints in your neighbourhood bar.. Don’t blame Indin government for the problems faced by Indian crew worldwide which is the result of COVID-19 Pandemic and Govt has already started evacuating the crew from different parts of the work. When it comes to rescuing its citizens, Indian Gov has done a wonderful job of bringing back its citizen from the war zones. Go read the historical facts when you are sober enough.. There were nearly 40000 Indin crew stuck all over it takes a proper plan to bring them back. When it comes to taking care of the citizens we are at or with the best. When you talk about crew managers, yes.. I agree with you.. There are people who mint money during such calamity and you wi find such tribe all over the world.. However, your example of 17th-century colonial Govt is well worth remembering.. Who are these colonial Governments?? On top of the list is Great Britain. Spain, Portugal, dutch, french and few others.. For that matter, India never attacked a foreign country and never had a colonial mindset. The colonial shit lies at the door of all the above countries which now enjoy the loot from their colonial period.. So take a chill pill..Don’t lecture us as to how we should take care of our own people..

  3. You don’t need to remember the EAST INDIAN COMPANY to know that there were not European settlers in India. The land was all sold to local tyrants who massacred hundreds of thousands of Indian peasants. Facts all well known and condemned in its day, for which the company was dissolved and replaced by a colonial government, employing mainly Indian officials. Where’s the racism?

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