Seafarers caught in global storm, with nobody to help

I’ve been informed on oil spill which occurred in Singapore waters on Jul 25-26, involving the ship, operated by a well-known, major, Asian company. An insider who alerted me, asked for anonymity, quite an understandable precaution in nowadays era of strengthening persecution of anyone who dares to defy ruling agenda. It is not spill what’s most important in this story, it’s the roots of it. According to insider information, quality seafarers are fleeing the company, not because of salaries, which are quite high, but because of intolerable, and indeed, risky and toxic crewing management practices. Seafarers are overburdened with ever growing paper work, and with that, they’re responsible for each and any mishap and accident, they’re guilty if something happens, and they’re to be punished, leaving company clean and innocent.

Some two months ago, my friend, an engineer working in European major tanker company, shared with me his, put it mildly, surprise, when on boarding the ship after leave, he was acquainted with reports on recent accident, and had to sign a paper, making him responsible for any injury he may suffer in similar circumstances. He was informed, you see. That is, his safety is his responsibility only, not company’s. If anything happens, he signed a document, relieving company of any liability, he is to blame, he is to carry all costs and consequences.

There’s another new trend gathering way nowadays – seafarers are pressured into becoming whistleblowers, kind of snitches society membership, embracing whole crews.
In general, working environment in shipping has become, during last two decades, quite toxic for professionals, from seafarers to honest, hard working private ship owners. Crews have nobody to ask, nowhere to turn to, in search of justice and help. If they work on a ship belonging to private owner, they receive quick response and help, when encountering trouble. If they work in a major company via manning agency, they’re helpless and vulnerable to any trouble. They’re on their own, and they’re to be blamed in almost any circumstances.

New business culture transformed big ship owners into faceless, inhuman monsters, a mesh of owners, managers, and third-party contractors. They exist in artificially created legal bubble (thanks to international maritime bodies), making them immune to almost any kind of trouble, and freeing them from any responsibility towards crews. In increasingly socialistic global economy, culture of CEOs has become one of hallmarks of modern business landscape. Soviet-style CEO management is defined by total lack of responsibility towards anybody and anything, except anonymous directors or shareholders boards. Their main care is their career and income. Of course, one of the main conditions of their successful career building is readiness to quickly respond, and support, any new trend, any new agenda, propagated by globalism leaders. They can’t go against mainstream, however ruining and harmful it may be for the company and for crews.

Seafarers can’t turn to social and charity institutions, either. Nowadays, there are hordes of NGOs, Funds, Foundations and Associations, whose main and only goal is care for seafarers, protecting them from evil shipping environment, impersonated by private ship owners. They protect seamen from any problem and woe, whether real or fake, except from those which are on top of seamen woes list. Gender gap, mental health, abandonment, rest/work hours, piracy stress, on and on goes the list with problems, which are either totally fake (like gender gap), or negligent, for the majority of seafarers. To put it short, those institutions aren’t the solution of any real problem, they’re part of the problem.

And of course, seafarers can’t turn to trade unions. There are effectively, no trade unions left, except one monster spider, covering by its’ poisonous net nearly all of global shipping. By the way, I believe the future of trade unions lies in internet, in forms of diverse and independent from any international or governmental body, online unions of mutual help and protection. I’m pretty sure, that ITF, its’ bosses (ILO, UN) and its’ minions (national affiliates), have no future, they’re doomed, by sheer anachronism of their nature and practices.

With all that said, I can’t but add one more thing – shipping professionals must defend themselves, they should start doing it long time ago. They should, for starters, establish their own stage, to voice their real concerns and problems, and discuss probable solutions.

July 2019

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My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in solving a number of piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.