The Eugen Maersk, the world’s largest (397-metre-long) container vessel Photo: AFP/GETTY

Forget any romantic notions of life on the ocean wave – most modern-day seafarers are simply ‘prisoners with a salary’

By Rose George

“It was only late afternoon, but already dark and stormy, on the Thursday of the week before Christmas 2009, when the cargo freighter Danny FII approached the Lebanese port of Tripoli en route from Uruguay to Syria. She carried 18,000 cattle, 10,000 sheep and 83 humans, including four passengers, and had been converted from a car carrier into a modern-day Noah’s Ark…

The man who goes to sea, wrote Marco Polo, is a man in despair. This is still true, but today’s man of the sea is also probably poor, probably exploited, and living a life that contains, at the least, chronic fatigue and overwork; boredom, pirates and danger. Suicide rates of seafarers are triple those of land-based occupations and carrying sea cargo is the second-most deadly job on the planet after fishing.

The International Commission on Shipping estimates that thousands of seafarers, working on 10-15 per cent of the world’s ships, ‘work in slave conditions, with minimal safety, long hours for little or no pay, starvation diets, rape and beatings’. All to bring us our Fairtrade coffee and our ethically sourced clothes.

Plenty of seafarers I meet tell me their job is like being ‘at prison with a salary’. Wrong, wrote the Maritime Charities Funding Commission, which found that ‘the provision of leisure, recreation, religious service and communication facilities is better in UK prisons than on many ships’.

The ship ‘house’, where seafarers live, is small but clean. But Molloy gives me a PowerPoint presentation about some other ships he has seen. Mouldy, filthy couches, rotting fruit and meat. I hear complaints that chandlers – suppliers – regularly give ships poor quality food, simply because they can, when a ship is in port for 24 hours. But the crew doesn’t complain here and the paperwork is orderly.


Link to the rest at The Telegraph