May 07, 2015

False contention

Even in an age where media headlines are everything and content is immaterial, the conclusion drawn after an industry ‘mini survey’ last month is as curious as the findings themselves are disingenuous. I talk of the joint BIMCO and International Chamber of Shipping report; the so-called analysis of statistics supposedly collected from a sampling of seamen has smugly concluded that, by and large, seafarers are a contented lot. 

As can be expected from such an enterprise, the study was padded with inane clichés about ‘happy ships’ and such; as can be expected, the shipping media’s headlines have, almost universally and despite some protests from more than a couple of seamen associations,  reproduced the BIMCO-ICS report canard. I can see, in the near future, these dubious ‘contentment’ findings being used as yet another hammer to beat over seamen’s heads. 

Now BIMCO is an association of shipowners, operators, managers, brokers and agents, whose stated core objective is to 'facilitate the commercial operations of members.' The ICS is a trade association of merchant shipowners and operators whose stated aim is to promote their interests.

To those who choose to miss this, this ‘survey’ is, therefore, tainted with conflict of interest; Any enterprise by associations of employers- who do not even obliquely refer to seafarers as part of their flock- that claims to show that seamen are a contented lot should be laughed at all the way to the door. They speak with forked tongues.

Besides, which seamen is the report referring to? Europeans? North Americans? Africans? Asians? Russians? Chinese? Indians? Does it really want us to believe that seamen are a monolithic group? Does it conveniently assume that the treatment of seamen- a direct contributor to their contentment levels, for sure- is uniform, and ignores nationality or colour of skin? 

What is the real agenda here? Does the industry think that seamen are so dumb that they will buy any drivel dished out to them?

I meet with, or am in touch with, many Indian seamen. I talk to them (I suspect not many are doing this, although many are talking at them, and always have been.) The experiences and attitudes of the younger lot are particularly dismaying. Most of them have gone out to sea as a last preference. Most of them have bribed somebody for their first job, or their first training berth (so much for expecting integrity from them without showing them any). All of them are routinely treated like cattle, lied to, treated with scant respect and shortchanged at every opportunity by the industry. Most of them are wary about losing their jobs. Many spend the time between ships going around the country attending an increasing number of (thank you, STCW!) useless courses, or feel-good company meets that are full of hot air but little substance . 

On ships, they are routinely overworked to the point of fatigue. Their shore leave is often restricted or worse, banned. Many work for months without proper contact with their families even in this internet age. 

The situation is dismal; so dismal that many crews out there do not expect anything from the industry beyond the hope that their monthly wages will be paid on time. Besides, anybody of calibre or confidence is looking for a way out. The smartest will probably move ashore into shipping and inflict on its seamen the same indignities that were inflicted on them, because the lack of respect- to put it mildly- shown to seamen is the industry’s default setting. Worse, it is being passed down from one generation to the next.

Does this look or sound like a scenario in which seamen could be a contented lot? Are they as dumb as BIMCO and ICS would like them to be?

Contentment implies more than a modicum of happiness, you know. The report is not just an embarrassment. It is absurd. It is cynical. 

How dare they.



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