Steven Jones, the compiler of the Seafarers Happiness Index, writes for Splash today on the potential for a cryptocurrency solution for crews around the world.
Having finally seen the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report over the line, I was sitting down with a coffee and scrolling through Splash, as one does. Two articles really caught my attention. One by the Ocean Technologies Group CEO Manish Singh, with his fascinating take on the four key challenges facing shipping. The other from Hong Kong’s dynamic duo Su Yin Anand and Tabitha Logan, as they looked ahead to the year in maritime technology.
Both articles threw the gauntlet down to come up with other ideas, innovations and solutions. Manish grouped his thoughts into words beginning with C, covid, connectivity, collaboration and carbon. It was while reading this another couple of C-words leapt to mind, good ones I hasten to add…crypto and crew!
It got me thinking of the potential for a cryptocurrency solution for the maritime industry, more especially seafarers. How, how, how though could this be made to work for the wellbeing and welfare of crews?
I drank more coffee and thought harder. What is one of the biggest problems facing seafarers? Not the shorter-term pains such as shore leave and crew changes, but the most fundamentally appalling and dreadful problem? It has to be abandonment.
What if there was some form of seafarer crypto escrow, from which wages were released to a seafarer’s personal wallet at an agreed juncture and rate of pay?
The idea that a seafarer can work for months, perhaps longer and then not receive what is rightfully theirs, and then be ghosted by their employer is a stain on the name of shipping. That they can further be harassed, threatened and compelled to stay onboard discarded vessels in squalid, degrading and unsafe conditions is further evidence that change is needed.
So, what can crypto do? Well, what if there was some form of seafarer crypto escrow, from which wages were released to a seafarer’s personal wallet at an agreed juncture and rate of pay? What could that do to remove the likelihood of no pay, or of being lied to and left for a fool? It seems there is a grain of an idea and mechanism in there.
Perhaps, just perhaps this was the missing link in bringing transparency to seafarers and their relationship with shipowners? The good would always release funds, and with the blockchain fully appraised of the status, then there would be no red flags flying for them. Where seafarer wallets do not receive what is owed…claxon, alarm, big black marks.
At that point in my thinking process, having added a biscuit to my coffee a sugar rush of ideas exploded. With overall seafarer happiness falling, a key issue to emerge in the latest report is the two-headed hydra of lack of respect and lack of reward. Seafarers don’t feel they are recognised for the amazing work they do, and perhaps as a result, they do not feel that the rewards are high enough.
Respondents spoke of their annoyance at seeing shipping companies making record, multibillion-dollar profits, and yet none (or very little) is seen to trickle to the crew. Now of course, not all ship types are rolling in clover, so it’s a bit of a catch-all concept. What though, if a new shipping related cryptocurrency could be created which could sit in this seafarer crypto escrow and then…every month, week or whatever could find its way into their wallet? With a lower limit of exchange always meaning that ILO minimum rates are met, but with a little cream on top if things are going well.
Could this be the answer to many problems? I add a question because while I sense the tantalising tingle of a solution, it is obviously very far from any more than a vision. If it could be brought to fruition could it make some of the fundamental changes that would make not only life better for seafarers, but could it also give a real, workable, positive use for the blockchain? Again more questions.
I have a sense that other areas could be brought into this seafarer crypto escrow (a CrewCrow, as it were), things which would bring quality to the fore. So, tying in vessel grades and standards, connectivity performance, seafarer happiness etc, etc. Whatever can be fed to make the algorithm more powerful and effective.
Then with all the issues that seafarers face could come together in a reporting mechanism, one that shows they have been paid. This could then be overseen by their home state, or certainly by the flag administration of the vessel. Heck maybe even the IMO or ILO could be in the loop. There are only 62,000 odd vessels and 1.5m seafarers – the numbers are low, and the need for action high.
I will stop there, my coffee cold, my tin emptied of Danish cookies, my brain frazzled by the (over)thinking. I would love to hear if there is merit to the idea, and if anyone would like to hop on a Zoom and talk through the vision, the concept and what it could deliver, let’s talk. If you would, then it seems yet another C-word could be thrown in the mix, that of community.
So, let’s join together and find the answers to the many problems which have besmirched shipping for far too long. Let’s finally use technology to deliver on the promises of decades. In the meantime you can read more about the Seafarers Happiness Index at www.happyatsea.org.