Mariners Face New Threats in 2017 While Dealing with the Old

No matter the size of the ship, a mariner's job is demanding.
No matter the size of the ship, a mariner’s job is demanding on any of the seven seas. 

It’s a brand new year for the world, but it looks like the Same Old S*** for mariners. Threats of piracy, accidents, death in foreign ports, and now, with Donald Trump as president, mariners forbidden to take leave in U.S. ports.

The next time you settle into that easy chair, or slip on your favorite running shoes, I want you to think about this. According to a recent article at Maritime Insight.com, a mariner is twenty times more likely to have an accident than someone who works ashore.

These aren’t accidents that involve bumping your head on a door or losing your balance when the ship rocks in rough seas. We’re talking about serious bodily injury or death. Let me put it this way. If you invited your Cousin Joe, who’s a merchant marine, and nineteen other cousins to a party, Joe’s chances of being injured or killed on the job are equal to the chances of all your other cousins combined.

Dr. Grahaeme Henderson president of the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping, recently told members, “When I meet families of seafarers, they tell me the most important thing is getting their loved ones home safely.”

Mariners, no matter what country they’re from, are somebody’s sons and fathers, brothers and uncles and cousins. Shipping companies can’t afford not to continually seek newer and better ways to improve on their safety record.

When the ship’s electrician, who was working on an elevator on the Carnival Ecstasy, was crushed to death, his blood flowed down the elevator doors. When events like this happen, we can’t just turn squeamishly away, upset that our cruise was ruined. If companies that employ these victims are genuinely sincere about the loss, they must do better than hire a new employee at the next port.

Carnival expressed “heartfelt sympathy” over the death of 66-year old Jose Sandoval Opazo. But a little soul searching and the development of stricter safety regulations onboard their ships would be far, far better than empty words. If Carnival’s concern ends with a press release, you can bet sooner or later we’ll be reading about more deaths on cruise ships.

As for the public’s part, I encourage you to visit cruisejunkie.com for a comprehensive list of accidents at sea. If that’s not enough to open your eyes, go to www.cruisecritic.com/news. Skip the link to “Finding a Cruise” and “Deals” and stay focused on “News.”

Here you can read about the crew member who died in a gas explosion this past February 09 aboard the Emerald Princess while the ship was in Port Chalmers, New Zealand. The cruise line released a statement saying, “We are deeply saddened that a member of Emerald Princess crew was fatally injured in the incident.”

I wonder if the sadness extends to offering help to the family for lost wages or paying for the crew member’s burial. I also wonder if the corporate bigwigs are sad enough to take precautions so that an accident of this kind never happens again.

Hungry for more? Check out www.cruiseminus.com. There you can get the lowdown from accidents to disasters. Included in the site is information about pollution, crime, and groundings.

And if you think none of this has anything to do with you, you’re sadly mistaken. Remember the Costa Condordia in Italy a few years ago? Thirty-two people died in that accident, both passengers and crew members; many of those were trapped inside the ship.

I’m not here to convince you to avoid cruise ships. They are a fun and wonderful way to vacation. But crew and passengers who elect to sail the seas deserve the best protections possible, and every time we read about the tragic death of a crew member, we should be reminded someone is cutting corners somewhere.

If you think accidents and the danger of sinking are a crew member’s only threat, you probably aren’t aware that piracy is alive and well in some parts of the world. You may not have read much about Somalian pirates lately because international forces have been effective in deterring them. Off the coast of West Africa and in the Malaccan straits, it’s a different story.

While some pirates stick to the centuries-old formula of hitting a ship then running, several groups of pirates are using different tactics. Kidnapping is their modus operandi. Imagine more mariners being kidnapped in one year than in a total of ten. That’s exactly what happened last year. According to Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the International Maritime Bureau, the Sulu Sea is the new hot spot for pirates. Mariners are most likely to be taken captive between East Malaysia and the Philippines, and in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa.

In 2016, 62 mariners were kidnapped for ransom in 15 separate incidents. And an ever-increasing threat is developing off the coast of Peru. Last year saw a rise from zero kidnappings to eleven last year.

HIS Maritime Portal reports: if you’re a crew member from one of the seven countries that Donald Trump has placed a ban on, life has gotten not only more complicated but downright difficult and dangerous. Forbidden shore leave, a mariner from one of the “terrorist” countries is confined to ship much like a prisoner.

The Seaman’s Church Institute on behalf of mariners from the targeted countries has been proactive on their behalf, discussing options with the United States Customs and Border Protection.

No one is saying what will happen if any of these mariners, who already sacrifice so much, has a medical emergency. Past practice has been to allow foreigners without visas into the country. But that’s no guarantee or consolation to a mariner injured aboard a ship or threatened with appendicitis.

When you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When the only means you have for dealing with terrorism are rigid bans, suddenly every foreigner without white skin and blonde hair begins to look like a terrorist.

Life aboard a ship is tough. Months are spent in isolation far from family and loved ones. Cramped living conditions are challenging, and the demands of a job that frequently require irregular hours contribute to mental and physical fatigue. Unnecessary accidents, fear of kidnapping, and the political antics of a world leader shouldn’t have to be part of a mariner’s regimen when he signs on board a ship.

It’s about time we give mariners of the world, whether from China, England, India, Germany, Syria, or the United States, the respect they deserve. And if they’re really going to get help, let’s hope they’re not kicked around like a political football or their safety placed second to the bottom line of the shipping companies they work for.

What’s your opinion? Does the safety of mariners who deliver over 85 percent of the goods used around the world really matter? Or should we treat them as dispensable employees lucky to have a job? I know of no other job where an employee has to face down pirates, shipwrecks, storms, and hazardous working conditions, all the while being separated from his/her family by an ocean of loneliness.

                                                        Bill Hegerich

                                                        The Uncommon Mariner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Mariners Face New Threats in 2017 While Dealing with the Old

    1. This piece has barely scratched the surface of a mariner’s travails. Your sofa and your running shoes got to your home because of men and women who took on a very dangerous job. Thank one when the opportunity comes.

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  1. What a thoughtful and illuminative post, Bill. You are probably right about the lack of awareness of lives lost at sea by people working hard to deliver goods and experiences for the rest of us. You have certainly raised it in my consciousness – thank you.

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  2. Ocean of loneliness what a good job of putting together words explaining a Mariners life. The many dangerous jobs they perform, the long months away from home, the possibility of being kidnapped by pirates, bad weather and living in close quarters to name a few. They have my highest respect. When a ship docks in a port and arrives safely after days or months at sea my one thought would be what’s the fastest way my legs could carry me off the ship. To think some people are trying to make some stay behind is ridiculous. Mermaid

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