June 26, 2014

Hashtag mess- the bane of the seafarer.

The IMO’s press release in the run up to the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ is an exercise in rambling self-indulgence and desperate hashtag activism. I also question the motives behind this annual attempt that asks- pleads with- society to value seamen; a plea should be directed at the shipping industry first anyway. 

“Every year, June 25th is celebrated globally as the Day of the Seafarer, an official United Nations observance day,” the IMO reminds us. “This year, once again, the IMO is asking people everywhere to show their appreciation, through social media, for seafarers and their contribution to global prosperity”.  The IMO then asks everyone to complete the sentence- “Seafarers brought me….” and post it on Twitter and Facebook, adding the hashtag “#thankyouseafarers”.  Probably to help the juvenile part of the audience that is buying this deceitful and trite campaign, the missing word in that sentence can be anything that came by sea. There is also an ‘exciting’ virtual wall somewhere on IMO’s website where people will write down the things that seafarers brought them and which they value the most. 

Most seamen will say that the IMO works first to further the cause of the shore based part of the shipping industry; seamen’s interests- even their basic rights- come a very poor second. To then use the seafarer to evoke sympathy for the industry- or empathy with it, which is what the IMO campaign is really about- is disingenuous, even specious. The fact is also that the industry does not have a human face that it can present to the world (mainly because it does not want to spend the money to do so); seamen are the industry’s face, or so it thinks. I find it offensive that my ‘face’ is being used- without my consent or approval- by a UN organisation in this cynical bait-and-switch way. 

I am not sure that it is the IMOs job to extort sympathy or empathy from the general public. Its job is mainly regulatory. If it is really concerned about seamen, a day or a week spent pulling them out of the woodwork and parading them on social media will not cut the mustard. By the way, do we have any numbers on how much is being spent every year on this ‘Day of the Seafarer’ exercise, and what, if anything is the pay off? 

 Perhaps the IMO should concentrate more on its day job, including the breaches of basic safety regulations that occur every day on many, many ships around the world-instead. Perhaps it should concentrate on ensuring that seamen’s basic rights- including those that are now claimed to be enshrined in the MLC- are actually delivered. Perhaps it should persuade shipping to value its seafarers before it asks the general public to do so.

The IMO’s use of the social media to create sympathy for- or awareness about- shipping reveals that the industry has run out of ideas. And, leaving my distaste for Twitter and Facebook aside, social media is hardly the place for in depth analysis of anything; it is a very hopeful quick fix. The problems of shipping- especially its seamen- cannot be solved in 140 characters or less. They cannot be solved by an annual feel-good event that nobody, within or without the industry, really cares about. Hoopla is no substitute for substance. 

Many of you will tell me, hey! The IMO is not looking to solve any problems with this campaign, so why are you making this fuss?  And what is the harm if they try to create awareness- or evoke empathy for the industry- even if it involves using seamen as bait?

No harm, I guess. If only I could get rid of the distasteful feeling I have in my mouth, I am sure everything would be just fine.


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