June 25th has been declared by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) as the International Day of the Seafarer. Yes, I’m a little late with this post, but I hope you’ll read it and think about it anyway. I’m at sea at the moment. All of the people who work as seafarers spend most of their lives at sea and aren’t always able to keep up with the rest of the world.
I’m very fortunate that I’ve worked my way up to a position where I have some options. I refuse to work on any vessel any more that doesn’t allow me internet access (it works here at least sometimes). You’d be surprised how many companies don’t think that’s important!
I’m one of the few lucky ones. I work in a very competitive area and my wages are much higher than most. I remember my deck crew on the tuna boat asking my why they didn’t earn American wages since they were working on an American boat. The only (true) answer I could give them was that their company bought off our Congressmen. The DWTF (Distant Waters Tuna Fleet) is exempt from almost all US maritime law including minimum wage laws. The fishing fleet is one of the worst as far as decent treatment of their workers, but it is far from the only offender!
It’s nice that the IMO decided to give us a special day to remember (and hopefully appreciate) what we do. The world needs trade. Most trade today moves by sea. So pretty much everything you need will have been transported at some point by a seafarer.
Most people have no idea about the importance of the maritime sector any more. Ports are no longer part of everyday life for most people. The ships are kept far out of town and so out of mind. If you want to get a real idea of what it’s like out here, check out this link and the documentary they mention: “Black Sea Laid Bare”. It might surprise you.
I think it’s great for Princess Cruises to do what they’re doing (as mentioned in the link above). It would be great if some of the other large cruise companies would join in. It would be even better if the cargo shipping companies and all the rest would offer a better life to the sailors than they do now. Most take advantage of the desperation of people from very poor countries willing to do anything to support their families.
Most seafarers work for months (or even years) at a time on their ships before they can go home to visit their family (for a short time). They have very few benefits (if any). They are paid very low wages (at this point the ILO minimum wage for an AB is only $592 per MONTH!, that works out to about $2.64 per hour for an 8 hour day!). They work every day, day after day for months on end. No breaks til they get off the ship to go home.
That ($592 per month) is the pay for a skilled worker. Seafarers are now expected to train and train and do more training, more and more of which is supposed to be done on their earned VACATION time. That training is not cheap either!
Many work overtime if they can. The STCW limits working hours to 12 hours per day (except for drills and safety related things). Most companies abuse this rule and refuse to pay overtime. There are SO many instances of sailors fighting to get the money they have earned. Plenty of owners/operators supply their ships the bare minimum to survive on. Food, water and even fuel to power the generators are sometimes in short supply and crews are reduced to fishing for their dinners!
Then, to top it all off, when they’re tired of waiting to get paid (for months) and try to do something about it, the owners just abandon the ship and crew. Then they’re stuck on a ship with dwindling supplies and no way to get home or even leave the ship! Oh yeah, many countries around the world have now followed the lead of the United States and treats sailors as criminals and possible terrorists! Just one more way they make life miserable for us. Plenty of ports we’re not even allowed to take a walk to the store for a newspaper!!
So yeah, it’s nice to have a yearly Day of the Seafarer, but it would be a hell of a lot better to actually DO something for them!
So far, most of the things that have been done to help us have not really done much at all, and in a lot of cases can be said to have hurt us instead. Good intentions are wonderful, but I would rather see some effective ACTION taken instead!