("White man's burden" -a Kipling poem and a justification for colonial and imperial plunder that pretends that colonialism was a noble enterprise because the natives benefited from western civilisation)
At the end of last month, a glittering programme was launched in London that claims that it will assist seafarers and families traumatised by piracy. The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) is funded by the ITF and The TK Foundation and lists as partners the entire gamut of acronyms from the Western maritime world-BIMCO, ISF, IMB, IGP&I, INTERTANKO, INTERCARGO, IPTA, SIGTTO, OCIMF et al. And of course the IMO, without whom we would all be at sea.
"The programme speaks for an alliance of shipowners, trade unions, managers, manning agents, insurers and welfare associations representing the entire shipping industry, from crews to owners", the MPHRP says.
My first reaction: What are they doing setting this up in London when the mariners and the families they say they want to help are thousands of miles away? Then it occurred to be, as I dug a little deeper, that this was little more than the same old regurgitated stuff we sailors have been fed over the years. A useless feel-good initiative. Another way to make money and peddle influence. Another way to be seen to be doing something, even if it is ineffective. Just one more way to burden the predominantly Asian seafarer. Just another round of BMPs. Just another brick in the wall.
Take a look at what the MPHRP intends to accomplish as first priority- in their words, not mine:
"In its first phase the programme is developing:
* "good practice" guides for use by shipping companies, manning agents and welfare associations to support both seafarers and seafarers' families through the three phases of a piracy incident from pre-departure, during the crisis and post release/post incident,
* associated training modules,
* an international network of trained first-responders with appropriate skills within Partner and associated organisations,
* access to a network of professional aftercare,
* a 24 hour seafarer's international telephone helpline
The programme is working on a series of training modules and resources for shipping companies, manning agents, seafarers and those who provide first response and welfare to seafarers. These will be launched at the end of 2011.
Good God. It seems that yet another crapload of BMPs, training requirements and publications is to hit shipping shortly. This statement from the ITF's Roy Paul says ominously, “We have already been listening to seafarers and recording their experiences. Those will lay the foundation for new guides for seafarers, families and employers, for training in their use, and for building the networks of human and medical help that are now desperately needed.”
Thank you for listening to seafarers, Mr Paul, although your partners could have listened to this seafarer eleven years ago when two high speed skiffs were chasing me and my crew on a passage from Aden to Mombasa. You could have listened to the cries of hundreds of seafarers taken hostage over the years. Anyway, better late than never and all that tommyrot, I guess.
I admit that we seamen are thrilled and touched in the head today that you are listening to us. We avidly note that the MPHRP will soon, as it says, " present its series of Good Practice Guides for Shipping Companies and Manning Agents for the Humanitarian Support of Seafarers and their Families involved in Piracy incidents," and the scintillating topics that will no doubt support us and our traumatised families will include, in your new organisation's words, "Introduction to Good Practice, Developing an action plan, Pre-departure preparation and training, When under attack, When captured and held hostage, Preparing for release, When released and Post release."
May I suggest that a new topic be added to your riveting reading list? Suggested title, "Preparing in triplicate for kissing your ass goodbye while following MPHRP Good Practice Guides."
Perhaps I am being uncharitable. Perhaps the second phase of this stellar MPHRP initiative (to be rolled out in 2013, probably, because the Good Practice Guides are obviously so immediately critical) will include actually doing something useful, like taking all those alphabets and acronyms and getting them to try to solve the problem of piracy, instead of Good Practice Guiding it to hell and high water.
Meanwhile, may I remind the good folk at the MPHRP once again that the victims of piracy are mainly in the Philippines, India- and even the Ukraine, and not in Western Europe, where almost all the MPHRP resources seem to be presently located? Even if the MPHRP plans to foray into countries like India, as I expect they will, may I remind them that there are a truckload of cultural, language and accessibility issues in reaching piracy affected mariners- including difficulties with victims living in rural areas- that cannot begin to be managed from London? How does the new acronym-MPHRP- intend to interface with those traumatised souls or their families? By using partners- owners and country managers or even local industry or regulatory bodies-and relying on their goodwill? Ha bloody ha. I can guarantee you that everybody but seamen will make money, and the victims will be further traumatised as a direct result of these actions.
May I ask that you take a look at the economic cost to Asian seafarers of being taken hostage? Many of these sailors are too afflicted to sail again after their ordeal. Sole breadwinners of families are economically snuffed out by piracy, compounding their misery manifold. Who will pay for this? Who should pay for this? Some of your partner shipowners or insurance companies methinks. Unlike some western seafarers, these people will not sign book deals or be paid handsomely to appear on TV talk shows anyway.
May I have the temerity to suggest that much of the maritime world - including some of your partners- lies discredited in the eyes of most seafarers today when it comes to piracy? Many of those same Asian seamen- that one of you boldly admitted recently were being used as 'cannon fodder' because they did not come from Western countries- simply do not trust you. The pretence your partners propagate -of caring for seafarers- will no longer fly. Seamen in this part of the world know that London, amongst others, has benefited tremendously from piracy and has milked the holy cow for years. This has often resulted in, amongst other things, unnecessarily prolonged ransom negotiations while they and their colleagues have continued to be tortured. Some of the MPHRP partners may well be partners in these crimes, and many seamen- like me- will see this new acronym as just another racket atop all the old ones.
The MPHRP and its partners probably know all this anyway; they may be indifferent or avaricious but they are not stupid. Whatever. I do wish, though, that the maritime alphabet soup would stop trying to find new ways to exploit sailors from developing countries. We have had quite enough.