Former Wallem boss Frank Coles writes for Splash today. Exasperated at the treatment of seafarers, he suggests a two-week global strike might be the only way to improve life at sea.
“When you chose going to sea as a career did you know you were becoming the scum of the earth?” This is the question a senior executive of a large shipmanagement company asked me as I was having a drink with him in Hong Kong. My reply was, “No, but in fact in my day we were not as badly treated as seafarers are today.” The further east in the world we have gone to look for cheap labour the worse has become the plight of the seafarer.
We have failed the youth who seek a career at sea, we have failed at human rights and have systematically abused the basic rights of the normal everyday employment of seafarers. This is not a rant, just a direct, plain statement of the facts as I see them.
Sailors cannot go ashore on shore leave, they are not able to go home at the end of contracts, they have poor living conditions and, in some cases, very poor food and not paid. All of this is much worse than five years ago and certainly than 30 years ago. Of course, this is not in every case, but the poor conditions and abuse is much more widespread than we choose to admit or address.
The further east in the world we have gone to look for cheap labour the worse has become the plight of the seafarer
Covid and the endless saga of the way in which seafarers have been treated is therefore no surprise. Much has been written and said by many in the industry, but shouting in the engine room does not reach the bridge. For all the noise the various attempts have failed to achieve a change of course from those in charge on the bridge of the various nations in the world.
We are getting some crew vaccinated, and this is a great thing, but it is not helping with the stranded crews both onboard or ashore seeking a job. It is not changing the many charterers and owners who refuse to change crews on time. The sad truth is that many organisations are going through the motions of seeming to care, but behind the scenes they do little to make a change.
It is clear that that the ITF and IMO are incapable of making those in government provide a cohesive maritime policy on seafarers and repatriation. It is clear that despite the noises most charterers and many owners continue to block crew changes in contract clauses. Corporate social responsibility is practiced with painting lipstick on the proverbial pig.
A hundred years ago when workers’ rights were in their infancy unions formed and became strong and influential. Strikes were common place and eventually those who prospered on the backs of the workers were forced to improve the working conditions of the workers. Crisis situations require drastic action, and the treatment of seafarers in this past 18 months is one of dire abuse of human rights.
It is only when the leadership of those countries around the world who have continued to have their ports work, goods be delivered and economies continue are hurt in the wallet will they maybe listen to the world citizen, the seafarers. Sailors don’t vote in the countries that they visit but they deliver the goods, they deserve a voice and deserve attention. Maybe a global strike of every ship for a couple of weeks is the only way to bring this to the attention of the bridge, because shouting in the engine room of shipping is not getting it done. Brussels, Washington and London amongst others need to start taking the this modern day slavery seriously.
This is written to provoke a response, and it could have been much longer with names and incidents to support the points, but editorial control prevented that. My hope is that someone somewhere will reach into a government that actually cares about seafarers and maritime and find a social conscience to support those who keep world trade turning. Otherwise what will come next?