“Hats don’t help seafarers” – but such articles help them even less

I’ve read an article “Hats don’t help seafarers – but you can” in SPLASH24/7 http://splash247.com/hats-dont-help-seafarers-can/, three times, and didn’t understand what’s all about, what author, rather emotionally, tried to say, and to what purpose. I managed to understand though, that the main problems of seafarers are criminalizing them, bad PR and abandonment. The rest is just fine.

Well, criminalizing is a bad thing, but with all the modern trends in global development, it’s inevitable, and all those Intermanager, ITF, Human Rights At Sea and a horde of other do-gooders actually, make situation worse, because they’re trying to patronize seafarers, not to help them. They’re incessantly working out new regulations and laws which in theory, should prevent maritime labor ill-treatment and improve seafarers living and working conditions. In practice, this well-intended process produces more and more regulations, which are prescribing seafarers and shipowners in tiniest details how to live and work, what they can do and what can’t, what they can have and can’t, how clean must be their bed sheets, and what they can, or can’t, keep in their notebooks or tablets, so on and so forth.

Of course, all those regulations immediately turn into a perfect instrument for petty, humiliating checks and controls, germinating corruption and malpractice, exercised by relevant institutions, from PSC to CG, all around the globe. Life of seamen, especially officers, is a nightmare, when talking about port calls, but abandonment, or bad PR, have nothing to do with it. The number of regulations is growing at an unbelievable rate with each coming year, and most of them are punishable. Perfect grounds for criminalization.
By the way, all senior officers I know are cursing carbon dioxide for all the headaches it brought to them.
“Tell them that shipping was the first industry to agree a global carbon dioxide reduction strategy. Make them as proud of our industry as we are” – wrote the author.
For all I know, seafarers can’t care less about carbon dioxide reduction, let alone be proud for their role in it. They hate the strategy and those who invent it. They have nothing to do with it, except the fact that they have to obey new laws like they obey the laws of nature, under the threat of criminal persecution.

Seamen, while on board of a vessel, are deprived of half of basic human rights. Drinking? No! Smoking? Well, yes, but we’re fighting it, we’re in for zero-tolerance on smoking (at least half of seafarers are smokers). Drugs? God forbidden, how dare one even mention that? Pornography? One big …ng no. Privacy in their own cabins, in their notebooks or during their free off-duty time? No. Any stranger in uniform has a right to break in and check, how a seaman is fitting into his, stranger’s understanding of what’s good and what is not. And yes, maybe turning his, stranger’s, blind eye on this or that violation – on some reasonable terms, of course. Is it not a wide-spread practice? Tell seamen that it is not so, or better still, work out new regulations to fight the malpractice of applying existing regulations. To check those who check by creating a new institution. After all, that’s what all this wishing-good fuss is finally, about – getting more power and more control over common people and common life.

It doesn’t mean of course, that seafarers don’t drink, or smoke, or use drugs, or sexually relief themselves with the help of pornography. They do all of these things, and more. Notwithstanding being proud for carbon dioxide reduction, they’re happy when they manage to add their share to global warming, and get away with it. The best way to complicate the problem, to make it unsolvable and generate new problems along with an old one, is prohibition. That’s exactly what do-gooders are doing. And don’t fool yourself – they do it not because they’re all that worried about poor helpless seamen, they do it for very good profits. Do-good in general, like fighting drugs, tobacco or global warming, or fighting dozens of other evils, has long become one of the most prolific businesses in human history.

Shipping and seafarers are perfect hunting grounds for do-good predators, because shipping and sea labor are easy to control, being highly insulated. They don’t mind, as long as life is bearable, and average income of say, Filipino or Russian seaman is way above average salary in Philippines or Russia. But when there will be too many restrictions with too many punishments, the best and most capable seamen will think better of it, and look for their fortunes elsewhere.

Ah, yes, about that greatest evil of all, about abandonment. Give us, please, the statistics of abandonment – what’s the percentage of maritime labor falling victims to malevolent shipowners? Just to comprehend the scale of the problem? I once tried to figure it out, and that’s what I figured:
Year 2009 (one of the worst in shipping history) – 0.12% of all the maritime labor were abandoned;
In average during the period 2001-2010 – 0.02%.
Is it all that big problem, keeping in mind the character of most of the abandons and abandoned seamen? Is there any other way to radically solve this problem, and some other problems, without creating the hordes of organizations, which busy themselves with defending seamen? Without giving unlimited and unrestricted power to ITF? Without staging countless, absolutely senseless, conferences and symposiums, full of strange persons and empty populist speeches?
Yes, there are such ways, in our era of high-speed globally accessible internet and breakthrough technologies, like block-chain technology.

But there’s one big unsolvable problem in trying to find and establish new ways of solving old problems. Those who will try to establish new, effective and cheap ways, which will give the voice and rights to choose and decide, directly to seafarers, won’t last long, if they achieve any visible, perceivable results. Because they will endanger, by their success, the well-being of many and many institutions and persons, those who’re in charge of flourishing business of protecting human rights, and other wonderful things.

As a journalist, I’d also implore you to kick up a stink if you know of seafarers being abandoned or treated badly. Send us photos, put us in touch with eyewitnesses and those who can corroborate your story. (Hell, give me the phone number of the shipping company’s CEO – I’ll ring him up!) – writes the author.
I’m kicking you up a stink – dozens of Hanjin vessels, mostly covered by ITF agreement. Though it’s another story for another feature.

Voytenko Mikhail
September 18, 2016