FOLLOWING 2010, the Year of the Seafarer, this year's focus will once again be on piracy and orchestrating the response to it.
Will the industry achieve any more in this respect than it did in the last year to improve the lot of seafarers? In a typically robust presentation to the London branch of the Propeller Club, former Spinnaker Chairman, Michael Grey, made some tough remarks. Seafarers, he told those present, are "treated like lepers by some of the authorities that clump up their gangways, and as potential terrorists by some of the others".
Michael remembered the day he was first accepted as an apprentice at Port Line when Southampton's daily paper ran a headline of "British seamen are the scum of the earth, says judge," so maybe lack of appreciation has been around for a while. Needless to say, the report was about a riot involving the crew of a passenger ship. Songs about drunken sailors and tattooed chaps eating spinach are just two caricatures.
Seafarers are still being criminalised for making mistakes and foreign seafarers are picked on just because they are foreign. Cases like the Coral Sea are sadly expected, with the chief officer dying while still in gaol for something neither he nor the other members of the crew who were arrested could have prevented. The case of the Hebei Spirit was another high profile incident and one where the industry showed what it can do when it stands united. Particularly pleasing was the backing shipmanagers V.Ships gave to their two officers, as well as support from the whole industry.
"There are still plenty of places which won't let ships' crews get ashore, or charge the ship ridiculous sums for transport to the dock gate and that is a continuing disgrace," Michael said.
"Customs authorities, which in my day made themselves pretty unpleasant when rummaging merchant ships, don't seem to have graduated from charm school, as they wake up people trying to get some sleep and like to indulge in "fishing expeditions" through seafarers' personal computers, on the off-chance there will be some porn on them. And there is no shortage of places where shore-side corruption remains endemic and the master must bribe his way out of trouble, just like he has always done."
In truth, it is not all bad news; many events were organised in the last year in support of seafarers, and there was much support from shipping organisations, professional associations and unions. It would have been nice though to have reached the end of the year though and been able to tick a box, to say "job done" in respect of just one seafarer issue. Next time guys, let's have a goal, an overriding objective that the "Year of.." is focused on. Otherwise, it's all, well it's all a bit limp really.
Seafarers , Michael said, want to be treated with respect, and this is ever more important as we are running out of them and struggling to recruit new ones.
"There have been some interesting opinion polls carried out among current seafarers to establish their concerns and it is significant that society's treatment of them is regarded as something that turns them away from the sea. Why struggle towards a command when you see your respected Captain being abused by some reptile with a revolver on his hip, or roused out of his bed by an urgent and insolent email sent demanding an instant answer by some acne-infested clerk in a charterer's office, who has an over-ripe opinion of his relative importance and no knowledge of time zones. A little politeness, which is another word for respect, would go a very long way in dealings with hard-pressed folk at sea".
That should tell 'em. Go Michael.