In responding to this annual column, I believe it is most important to also view our industry and marketplace through the eyes of the seafarer. After all, it is the seafarer who makes international commerce possible. Last year I spoke with a friend of mine, a veteran captain of container ships, who has been long at sea. He accurately predicted the recent difficult times by noticing that aboard his ship, fresh tomatoes were cut from his requisition beginning in October 2008. Conditions aboard his ship have continued to deteriorate.
Although his ship still operates, maintenance has ceased, the crew size is reduced, many facets of the ISM Code are being ignored and the promise of better times in the third quarter of 2009 never materialized. Now he looks to this year’s second or third quarter for better times.
One of his major concerns is that hazardous or difficult cargoes normally requiring extra care for safety reasons are regularly being misdeclared. When he complains to his operations department ashore, he is told to be happy he has cargo aboard and he is still employed. This is the case in many companies where the sales department is now in charge of the operations department.
My friend has decided to retire, not because of age, but because the increasing regulation, paperwork and harassment from the office, not to mention the lack of tomatoes, forced his decision.
Apparently he is not alone in his appraisal of the seafaring life, as the International Maritime Organization has decided that 2010 will be the “year of the seafarer.” The theme will be celebrated throughout the year in recognition of the sacrifices and risks seafarers shoulder in their work environment. “The unique hazards confronting the 1.5 million seafarers of the world — including pirate attacks, unwarranted detention and abandonment — coupled with the predicted looming shortage of ships’ officers, make it ever more incumbent to take immediate and effective action to forestall a situation from developing in which ships are not manned with sufficient skilled personnel,” IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos said.