Ken Peters reflects on nation states and their responsibilities to seafarers in the wake of the financial crisis

What an indictment! Financial disaster struck and the shipping world is thrown into panic. Don’t worry Hanjin I am not castigating you. In fact though prepared for the worst with the global network of The Mission to Seafarer’s on standby ready to support seafarers abandoned and cut adrift, Hanjin continued to pay wages, ensure the supply of food, water, generator fuel and kept their seafarers informed of developments. Great credit to the company when it could so easily have turned its back on its crew. In the most difficult of circumstances Hanjin continued to show consideration for those it is responsible for. What I am mystified by is something quite different and my thoughts turned to a different problem.

What condition is the world in when nation states tremble before a handful of seafarers who simply ask, “Please may we go shopping?” “We just need to have some shore leave to go to the coffee shop, internet café, bank, bar.” “We want to download the football scores, buy a new pair of trainers and walk in the park.” Some crews of Hanjin ships have been unreasonably denied shore-leave on the West coast of the USA and have been made to suffer unnecessarily.

Year after year an annual survey of shore leave availability in the USA highlights the fact that many are detained on board ship and denied access to the local town. Penned in and corralled on board their ships seafarers remain isolated and cooped up just at the time, when having undertaken long sea passages and the relief of land is in sight, they are ‘so near and yet so far’….far away from a warmth of welcome and a greeting that says thank you for bringing all that we need to our shores. The world trusts seafarers to carry goods to them, so why not trust them when they are here on our door step? Are nation states so feeble or insecure that that they cannot cope with the thought of a handful of foreigners knocking on their door?

The USA is not alone in this myopic mind-set which targets those that are different for treatment they would not tolerate being imposed on themselves. The world owes seafarers a huge debt of gratitude for keeping the world turning, not just for our comfort but for our survival. Wake up world, don’t punish the innocent and don’t perpetuate the divisions between ‘us and them’. Display some humanity offer humility, be gracious and generous.