This one’s for you if… you’ve ever bought a product that was shipped.

Have you ever wondered where your clothes come from? Or your fruit and veg? Or how far the various parts of your household appliances have travelled?   Or HOW they have travelled? Chances are you could guess that quite a lot of it is shipped. But have you ever stopped to imagine the life of the people who work on those ships? The months on end away from family, friends, civilisation, terra ferma? Have you ever thought about the loneliness and the isolation they must experience? Or the terror they feel every day that they pass through waters with high risk of attack from pirates? All this and more is covered in George’s interesting account of spending months at sea. I was amazed to read  about how poorly crew members are treated. But possibly the most surprising thing of all was that “shipping is so cheap that it makes more financial sense for Scottish cod to be sent 10,000 miles to China to be filleted and then sent back to Scottish ships and restaurants, than to pay Scottish filleters.” Unbelievable!

“Imagine you have a problem on a ship while you are on that ship. Who do you complain to, when you are employed by a Manila manning agency on a ship owned by an American, flagged by Panama, and managed by a Cypriot, in international waters?” p10

“If the engine is set to 80rpm (revolutions per minute)- the average speed of a resting human heart- the shaking is inevitable. Cruise ships modify their structures to prevent this happening and disturbing passengers. Working seafarers must live with it.” p38

“A sweater can now travel 3000 miles for 2.5 cents; it costs a cent to send a can of beer. In hard economic times, when there is more supply than demand, shipping a container can cost nothing.” p42

“Only 13 per cent of containers in Europe are physically inspected. Worldwide, the rate is thought to be between 2 and 10 per cent.” p43
One seafarer (Alan) died when ship sank and his brother (Martin) tried to find out what happened to him. “Legally, Alan worked on a small part of Panaman, floating in no-man’s sea. If Panama didn’t want to release the results of its investigation, there was nothing Martin could do about it, and nowhere he could go to protest.” p83
“There is no shortage of weapons for sale in Somalia’s markets, along with infinite supplies of khat…which produces effects similar to amphetamine. It is cheap, and it is an efficient lubricant for violence.” p151
“When you work in an invisible industry, you get tired of the effort required to pull it into the light.” p153
Consultant who is paid to do hostage negotiations with pirates. “Frequently the team members can be sleeping under the boardroom table for a month. They are rotated out every 30 days: that is considered the maximum time before mental and physical exhaustion begin. Chirac and his crewmates, humans confined in a small space, dependent on other humans confined in a small space.” p161
On another ship taken by pirates who started to torture the crew. “They knew enough to research Chirag’s name on the internet, to bring him a printout of a letter his sister had written to the Indian government begging them to do something to release her brother. But the Indian government would do nothing when the sip flew the flag of the Marshall Islands. They can only pressure the owners. German owners, Marshall Islands flag.”
Merchant seamen were also treated poorly during the War. “But by 1939 merchant seamen still had no standard uniform, no badge, no identifying features. When about 95 merchant ships were sunk during the first few months of the Second World War, their surviving sailors were required to pay their bus fare home, even if they were travelling there from a torpedoed ship; uniformed men were not.” p238
“American merchant mariners weren’t given veterans’ status until 1988, although at least 5000 of them had died supplying and fuelling the war effort. Now, they are at least entitled to use veterans’ hospitals and be buried in a national cemetry, although not to financial compensation for their service. Britons who sailed the Arctic convoys, in weather so cold that tears would freeze, were finally awarded medals in 2013” p253