Like everyone who came to the sea, I too am here because I wanted a better life for myself. I wanted to be free from my household so desperately when I was growing up that I took the only guaranteed path to freedom when I was 18 and signed up with the Singapore Maritime Academy. In 2009, I packed my bags and went on-board a tanker, my very first ship. My very first taste of freedom and adulthood.
So begun my illustrious career, I’m not going to lie or sugar coat it. Being at sea was miserable. All the Officers hailed from India and they were cold and cruel to say the least. The crew was Filipino and I was the odd one out. The sole Singaporean and the sole teenager.
The guys always had a point to prove and someone else to blame, being the lowest ranking crew member on-board and the youngest, the blame almost always landed on me. I wanted to quit. There was no internet, no phones, no emails, and almost no contact with the outside world as we often only loaded cargo offshore and discharged it at remote terminals.
I was tired, homesick, and angry. I felt like the burden of the world was on my shoulders. Sometimes, I would find a quiet spot in the pump room or the deck locker, away from everyone and just breakdown crying. It helped, for that moment, I could survive another day. Desperately trying not to count down the days to the end of my 6-month contract but like all things, it too came to an end. I swore I would never return to the sea.
Fast forward to 2020, it’s been over 10 years since I started my seagoing career. I now work for a conglomerate, earn a decent wage, and live in a different country. Without this job, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have met my fiancé, afford a decent car, and own a decent house but now more than ever, I feel as trapped as I did in 2009, if not worse.
Conditions have undoubtedly improved since then but here I am. I’m still a prisoner of my ship and unable to go home. I can’t even step on dry land to seek respite as we are confined to the vessel. I don’t know if I’ll have a job when I eventually get to go home. COVID-19 has in one swift stroke, regressed my entire way of life back to 2009, yet my commitments and financial obligations remain.
A colleague of mine received news of the passing of his father at the start of the lockdown imposed in most parts of the world. Consulates were called, Members of Parliament tried to intervene but even then, he only managed to secure a diplomatic flight out of here after 6 weeks. The charterers were also unsympathetic, they had cargo for us and that took priority over his repatriation home. He almost missed a flight that was planned by his country’s consulate because of poor planning by a major offshore subsea contractor.
It is now almost the end of May and everyone onboard is past their due dates. Some have completed their second rotations and are now going into their third. Yet we are the lucky ones, all over the world, we hear of seafarers who have been on board for over a year and still remain stranded. Suicide rates amongst seafarers are now happening at an alarming rate but these are not reported by the media.
On my side of the industry, we are still getting paid on time, we are somewhat well provisioned and our jobs are secured for the time being. The ship is working which in this economy speaks for itself. Oil prices ditched to the negative for the first time in history, further aggravated by the greed of the OPEC Nations, Russia, and Donald Trump’s America.
The IMO requested that we sound our horns in solidarity with seafarers on the 1st of May 2020, to demonstrate the extent of how incapable they are. Seafarers had to appreciate each other on behalf of the IMO who continue to be ineffective. At the end of the day, Governments need to ratify a plan which then has to go to the authorities, and even then, they would still have to seek partner airlines to facilitate crew changes. No airline would fly empty planes across the world.
At the end of the day, there is nothing we can do but wait. We need to wait for the people that we elected to lead us out of this. This whole pandemic has separated corrupt governments from proper leadership. We learned that America was not as great as they make themselves out to be and that one time Superpowers like Italy and the UK are now models of how not to run your country.
The world will change by the time 2020 is done and I too will finally have to put an end to this chapter of my life that I started all the way back in 2009. For the good of my family and my mental wellbeing, I will have to get as far away from this as possible. Far from the promise of glamour, glitter, and gold. We were all lured to sea with false promises and proxy egos but at the end of the day, even the most seasoned seafarer has to walk down that gangway one last time.
To my brothers and sisters of the sea, stay strong. Take it a day at a time and find someone to talk to. Seek solace in a friend or a family member. Remember that you are just a number to your shipping company so work slower, work safer, and work smarter. To the Masters, Chief Engineers, and Senior Officers who crack the whip in times like these, I’d like to gently remind you that accidents can happen at sea at any time.
Written by an Author He who doesn’t want to be named.
The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Maritime Post.
Have a story to tell? mail us at [email protected]
The Maritime Post is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest Maritime news and updates.