An enabling environment

There is a lot of talk around creating an enabling environment within the maritime industry to foster growth and inclusivity. In this context we view enablers as positive drivers. But, as we approach International Day for Women in Maritime, we need to be cognisant of another type of enabling environment – one with devastating consequences.

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog discusses issues of sexual assault, bullying and harassment.

You see – the reality of abuse, bullying and sexual assault is that it relies on an enabling environment where silence allows perpetrators to continue even when their actions are known or at the very least suspected.

Recent revelations by women around the globe across industry sectors prove this. Every serial abuser is surrounded by enablers; people who are willing to simply ignore or are actively complicit in the situation and who do not speak out against it. While sentiment is shifting, the subject is still taboo within many circles where gender stereotypes fester.

The living conditions on board vessels amplify the problem. Unlike shore-based professions where victims of abuse can return to the safety of their homes at the end of the day – at sea they are forced to live, eat and sleep within reach of their persecutors creating an optimal environment for the abuse to continue. It is within this environment that many choose to turn a blind eye to what must be somewhat evident. 

Trained to accept the status quo

In addition, based on some of the incidents that are now being reported, it is during cadetships and training that many women appear to be most vulnerable. As young women they find themselves working within an environment where they are outnumbered and outranked by men. Sadly, it is within this crucial part of their journey towards becoming career seafarers that they are often exposed to harassment and even assault.

According to one survivor, who is now involved in turning the tide on such incidents, these incidents often result in women leaving the sector or rethinking their ambitions of a life at sea. She believes that this developmental stage of seafarer careers needs to be addressed and acknowledges that many men are also bullied back to shore.

The result is that those men and women that should be at sea and who would generally be less likely to become perpetrators are the ones being forced out by this unreported criminal behaviour. It’s a Catch 22 situation that provides an enabling environment which allows the perpetrators to rise within the ranks while others are weeded out.

The young TNPA (Transnet National Ports Authority) cadet, Akhona Geveza was just 19 in 2010 when she died while serving on board the Safmarine Kariba. Speculation at the time around her cause of death highlighted the vulnerability of young men and women at sea as claims arose about how several cadets in South Africa’s maritime studies programme were subjected to “systematic abuse of power by senior officers, who threatened cadets’ careers if they did not perform sexual acts”. (Reported in a Sunday Times article at the time)

Difficult reports

According to Safer Waves, an organisation that was established in 2019 to provide support to merchant seafarers, there are many indications that shipping companies and senior officers continue to mishandle allegations of abuse that are reported to them.

“There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of seafarers being given poor advice, being ignored, being made to feel worse, authorities failing to investigate alleged sexual violence, victims being transferred off of ships rather than removing the offenders, and cover-ups between officers. Unsurprisingly then, victims often keep their experiences to themselves,” they contend.

In an industry where 25 percent of surveyed women state that physical and sexual harassment is common on board vessels it becomes vital to vocally address this enabling environment. This statistic, as revealed in a survey undertaken by the Women In Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), should be highlighted alongside the reality that 66 percent of women indicate that they have been intimidated by male co-workers while serving at sea.

Seeking help while still at sea can be difficult, especially within an environment that is by its very nature not conducive to protecting the needs of those at risk. Imagine having to report an incident within a system that values obedience and the hierarchal structure of ranks. Imagine having to continue living in this environment until at very least the next port – in close confines with the person who is responsible for your trauma as well as those who would rather turn a blind eye to the situation in order to maintain the status quo.

It is no wonder that most prefer to report incidents anonymously via email or hotlines. Sadly, this continues to shroud the victims in unwarranted shame while those at fault remain largely unscathed.

Standing up and speaking out

But the tide is turning. Organisations such as Safer Waves as well as the many seafarer welfare and women’s associations are helping move the conversation forward. More importantly, victims are beginning to speak out and hold those that are guilty of abuse accountable – oftentimes decades after the incidents occurred.

Midshipman X took a bold stand by coming forward publicly to denounce her treatment as a cadet on board a Maersk vessel. Others too are adding their names to the list – and one can only wonder whether the increased openness to have these kind of conversations may have saved South African seafarer, Geveza if we had been more proactive much earlier.

Because the truth is you know someone. You know someone that is both the victim and the perpetrator. You may not know exactly who they are, but trust me they are within your professional circle. This means that we all have to make a choice to stand up and dismantle the environment of enablers.

Seemingly innocent remarks that diminish the agency of any rank, gender or other minority at sea should be unacceptable within our midst. It is our responsibility to develop the courage to stand up when we see or hear about incidents.

Become dismissive

The old ethos of “what did she expect”; “women don’t belong at sea” or any other diatribes that shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim need to be dismissed. What a woman wears or where she finds herself within any profession cannot be used to explain away the behaviour of abusers. It is time to stop policing women and rather educate men and boys about their responsibility to behave like decent human beings.

Many of those that speak out do so in an attempt to save future generations and other women serving with their perpetrators. Most do not receive any real catharsis from doing so and certainly there is rarely much of a fallout for those who continue to take advantage of their position at sea.

One can only applaud SAMSA’s (South African Maritime Safety Authority) decision to host a gender based violence seminar in November last year. Although more than a decade after launching the local national cadet programme, the seminar gave a voice to the ongoing problem. In addition, educational information was distributed by the Authority in the month prior to the event.

Redesigning the future

It is, however, rather ironic that so many of our youngsters face harassment during their training at sea when it is precisely the right type of training that could ultimately reduce such incidents and improve the life of men and women at sea. I had the privilege of sitting down with Ann Pletschke – a volunteer at Safer Waves for a cup of coffee recently, who is herself a survivor. She would like to see this type of education formalised within the existing structures of STCW and other training conventions that focus on safety at sea.

This is a cause that she aims to see addressed as training evolves. She also highlights that the variety of jurisdictions that seafarers operate within provide additional difficulties. While some jurisdictions state that sex can be consensual at 14 – others increase the age of consent to 16 or even higher. Of course non-consensual sex (rape) is not legal at any age, but perpetrators making a claim of consent are open to cherry pick their jurisdiction in some cases.  

So – as a society and as an industry we need to ask what we are teaching the next generation when we continue to remain silent. To remain silent is to enable and this is one enabling environment that we should all seek to eradicate.


“There are more than 50 young, strong, amazing women in my class at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy where I am currently in my Senior/1st Class year. I have not spoken to a single one of those women who has told me that she has not been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or degraded at some point during the last 3 years at the Academy or during Sea Year. Most people, and even the leaders of our school, do not seem to understand how serious this problem is, especially at sea. In our class of approximately 50 women, I know of at least 5 women who were forcibly raped during Sea Year. And I am one of them.”

The high-profile case of Midshipman X who dropped her anonymity and revealed her identity as Hope Hicks received much media coverage with the legal case being settled towards the end of 2022 for an undisclosed amount. The accused in this case also faced some consequences.

FOOTNOTE: While writing this blog I was struck by my own internal voices warning me about taking such a strong stand within a male-dominated industry. I was concerned about being seen as another vocal woman beating the “fashionable” drum of inequality and abuse of power. I did not want to be seen as “that woman”. The fact that I am concerned at the reaction of men to this blog, however, speaks volumes about the environment we find ourselves in. The fact that many may ask about the need to dredge up old news such as that of Akhona Geveza should also be seen as a kneejerk reaction to maintain a status quo that benefits no one in the long term.

Equally, I am aware that “not all men” are guilty and that women themselves can be bullies and abusers – but that does not mean we should silence the very real narrative that abuse continues on board vessels within a career that we are promoting to young men and women.


Join the great debate

Logos are being suggested and talk about creating a National Shipping Line for South Africa is ongoing, but not without some dissenting voices. And, to be honest, it’s not a new debate.

Since losing the iconic Safmarine brand and the pride associated with owning the pristine Big Whites, as their containerships were affectionately known, South African maritime stakeholders have been divided about whether the advantages of a State-owned shipping line outweigh the challenges.

Even ChatGPT gave me a rather watery response when I asked the question.

For this reason I am inviting you to join our April Maritime Industry Dialogue to have a formal debate on the subject. I encourage you to apply to be on the panel for or against this development. Normal rules of debate will apply and we will open voting to the audience to determine which side has the most support at the close of the session.

Voting will be anonymous to promote the freedom to express one’s views without prejudice.

Since our usual slot for the Maritime Industry Dialogue sessions falls on Freedom Day, we will be scheduling the debate for 26 April at 15:30.



I asked ChatGPT about starting a National Shipping Line

With all the hype around ChatGPT internationally and the local debate about whether or not South Africa should start a national shipping line, I thought I would test out GPT’s intelligence and pose the question.

For those of you who may have been hiding in the engine room of a ship somewhere and have not yet heard about ChatGPT, it was launched in November last year and is designed to provide “articulate answers across many domains of knowledge” according to Wikipedia. I have heard from some individuals that they are using it to create speeches and assist in the writing of research papers.

So I decided to pose the question: Should South Africa launch a National Shipping Line?


Whether or not South Africa should launch a National Shipping Line depends on a variety of factors, including economic conditions, the country’s strategic goals, and the potential risks and benefits. Here are some factors to consider:


  • South Africa is an important trading nation and a National Shipping Line could provide the country with greater control over its shipping operations, ensuring the safety and quality of its goods, as well as setting competitive shipping rates.
  • Launching a National Shipping Line could create jobs for South African citizens and stimulate economic growth.
  • A National Shipping Line could help to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign shipping companies and increase national pride.


  • Starting a National Shipping Line can be expensive, with high start-up costs for ships, ports, and other infrastructure.
  • The shipping industry is highly competitive and volatile, with unpredictable demand and fluctuating freight rates, making it a risky investment.
  • Established shipping companies may already have a stronghold on certain routes, making it difficult for a new National Shipping Line to compete.
  • Political interference could lead to inefficiencies and potential corruption.

Overall, whether or not South Africa should launch a National Shipping Line depends on a thorough analysis of the costs, risks, and potential benefits, as well as a clear strategy for success. It may be wise for the government to consult with industry experts and stakeholders to make an informed decision.

While this all took only a few minutes to generate and the information is obviously accessible on the internet somewhere, the ChatGPT service does not indicate any of the sources of its information. For me, as a journalist, this is somewhat problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly – it is important to know the source of information in order to make an informed decision as to whether you believe it to be accurate and factual.

And, importantly, the information that GPT digs up may be protected by copyright laws and using it may expose you to potential infringement suits.

Nevertheless, GPT may serve as a good port of call for obtaining basic information from which to launch a more indepth investigation into matters that require critical interrogation and where the nuanced data is not required.

It just does not fly with me

News this month that Cape Town’s Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis was aiming to drive the city’s position as the Gateway to Antarctica is great – but the fact that it is being promoted as a “day trip” from the Mother City just does not fly with me.

In just five hours tourists can touch down in Queen Maud Land having joined a flight in Cape Town. Is it just me – or does this kind of defeat the object of travelling to one of the poles? It’s not supposed to be this easy. It’s not supposed to be accessible to the “instant gratification” types who will simply haul out a wallet to notch this up as an experience on their idealised bucket list.

They will not fully appreciate the distantness of this remote setting. They will not experience the icy seas and oceans that prevent many from reaching this destination. They will not be holed up on a small speck in the ocean in a daring effort to reach the ice.

While I appreciate that flights are shared between visitors and the scientific community, reducing environmental impact and supplying logistical support for scientists at research bases operated by several countries, including South Africa – it still seems at loggerheads to what getting to a remote destination should be about.

The mayor’s quote from press releases acknowledges that witnessing the “Antarctic’s pristine wilderness first-hand” is a privilege. Perhaps it’s just me, but I believe that it should be a privilege for those who are willing to set sail and earn their right to claim a footprint via an ocean expedition.

“Visiting the world’s remote seventh continent is the closest anyone will come to experiencing life on another planet,” notes the mayor without acknowledging that this is like taking the space out of space travel.  

Sadly I do see this as the way that tourism and exploration is heading – and am slightly jealous that I was not whisked down to the ice. Yes, I realise the hypocrisy in this, but fortunately I have not been tempted to test my lofty convictions.


Rocking the boat

As part of a four-ball of relative novices, I was asked not to be offended by the decision not to allow us to participate in the upcoming Fairship General Botha Old Boys Bursary Fund fundraising golf day.

Having previously addressed the fact that industry golf days, by their very nature and legacy, tend to remain rather male dominated with the board of the Bursary Fund, this decision came as a bit of a surprise – given that the four ball in question happened to include four women.

We were assured, however, that the marketing efforts for the golf day had reached out to women’s golfing groups and to the ladies belonging to the Rondebosch Golf Club where the event is being hosted.

That they had to find non-maritime women for an industry golf day does not seem to have made a dent in their thinking. According to the correspondence from the Bursary Fund and the manager of the Golf Club – there was not much interest shown despite their efforts to create a more inclusive field via these channels. That the women which were targeted in these marketing endeavours do not want to sign up for a stereotypically male dominated industry golf day also seems to be beyond their understanding of some of these nuances.

As a group of lady novices keen to have some fun at a golf day aimed at raising money for the future maritime generations – a golf day with sponsored holes aimed at making the game less serious, we have been advised to rather not participate lest it destroys our potential longer-term love of the game. In fact, the club manager has already decided we would NOT enjoy ourselves. The capitalisation of the word is her emphasis and not mine. Instead – she has advised us to embark on a more structured approach that includes the expense of coaching, lessons and mentorship.

Personally – the idea of the golf day sounds a hell of a lot more fun as well as a fundamentally better introduction to the game than the latter advice.

Apparently the “suggestion” to prevent us from teeing off is “not intended to exclude anyone and hopefully not discourage the eager and brave souls from ever trying golf”. I do hope that the intention now is to ascertain whether any of the other “souls” signed up for the golf day are novices and exclude them as well.

Yes, we are certainly novices and no we do not own our own clubs, but the correspondence also makes the assumption that none of us have had any exposure to the game – a fact that neither the Bursary Fund nor the manager cared to clarify. Personally, I have been on a driving range; I have played a short round with some experienced golfers, and I have co-organised several industry golf days back in the day.

During these golf days I spent the majority of the day riding around in a golf cart, photographing and engaging with players – followed by assisting with the prize giving and engaging with the score cards.

It was through the organisation of these golf days that my reservations about hosting such events materialised. The number of women from the maritime industry that played over the course of several years could be counted on one hand. Each event turned into a male bonding fest that effectively discouraged inclusivity.

Having been asked to engage with the Bursary Fund previously about how to move their brand into the future and maintain a relevance for the next generation of maritime professionals, I voiced this exact concern, but did suggest that they at very least include a prize for the top lady player. Not even this hit the mark with their organising committee.

I was told that these events remain the easiest and best way to raise money. Yes, raising money for maritime bursaries is certainly important, but what happened to our commitment to make the industry more cognisant of creating an inclusive environment?

Given this lack of inclusivity, I am rather astounded at the nature of the correspondence received to inform us of their decision, which is inherently condescending in its nature – offering us the opportunity to come out on the day and be taken out “briefly” on a golf cart. The email also goes as far as to say: “I trust that this does not offend any of your team and that it will be taken in the positive spirit intended”.

My answer to this is quite simply: yes, it does offend, but us taking offence is almost irrelevant to the broader picture here. A more “positive spirit” could have been engendered had either the board or the club reached out and made suggestions to accommodate us rather than simply telling us to get ourselves together and try again next year.

Perhaps suggesting that we tee off last so as not to impact the field; or to split our four ball into two and look for four more experienced players to join each four ball (more four balls – more money for the fund) could have indicated a rather more positive response.

I dare say that there are many other creative suggestions that could have come to mind had they thought further than protecting “the sport that they both love” with the word no!

Interestingly, their Instagram account seems to indicate that you are welcome whether you know how to play golf or not.

It’s time to speak up

Today’s email download included information about a new initiative launched by WISTA International and the International Maritime Organisation that I believe will help diversify the voices that get heard in the maritime industry.

The two organisations have created a new platform, a speaker bank for the women in maritime, intending to end the tradition of all-male speaking panels, sometimes referred to as ‘manels’. I do hope that the vibrant women from Africa’s maritime domain add their voices to this platform.

The Maritime Speakers Bureau is a great initiative and I will definitely be signing up to use the opportunity to register as a speaker as well as to identify potential speakers for future events.

The aim is to promote increase the number of women speakers on the international conference stage. According to a statement issued by WISTA International, “This will show more diverse role models and eliminate the excuse that “I cannot find a female speaker”; and simplify the process of finding speakers. It is free to register and use by speakers and organisers.”

The platform also includes a pledge for signatories to help highlight where diversity gaps occur as well as to commit to improving the inclusion at future maritime events.

“Creating this platform in collaboration with the IMO is a fantastic opportunity to help the wider maritime sector attract more diverse talent in an international industry. Women in our industry will be able to show their interest in participating in panels, becoming more visible and inspiring others. At the same time, event organisers will have the tools to make their panels more inclusive, diverse and interesting,” notes Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, President of WISTA International.

Secretary-General of the IMO, Kitack, Lim believes that the initiative will support inclusive, diverse, richer panels from this free-to-use directory of industry speakers so that audiences can benefit from a range of perspectives that come from having  diverse and inclusive viewpoints.

Visit the website now and sign up!

Rocking the boat

The closing ceremony of the World Maritime Day Parallel Event held last week in Durban included some accolades for South Africa as the host country and one where gender diversity within the maritime industry has gained traction. In stark contrast, the closing ceremony of the World Maritime Day Parallel Event held last week in Durban, also included the ceremonial handover of the International Maritime Organisation’s flag to Iran – the next host of the Parallel Event in 2023.

Iran waves the official International Maritime Organisation flag as the hosts of the World Maritime Day Parallel Event in 2023. (Photo: Hugo Scott Attfield)

No one stood up, no one cut their hair – we all politely clapped as a country currently facing allegations of appalling human rights abuses waved the flag for photographers.

Why are we sitting by and allowing this communal flag to be waved by Iran without any push back? Are we afraid to rock the boat? Are we merely paying lip service to providing an equitable space for women? Is the International Day for Women in Maritime merely empty rhetoric?

I call on WISTA International, WISTA South Africa, WOMESA, SAMSA, The Department of Transport, The International Maritime Organisation and all of the member states to stand up in the face of the mounting evidence against Iran and withdraw its privilege to host the maritime world in 2023. Not doing so portrays an element of complicit support.

For more information read:

And there are plenty more articles relating to the barbaric act of stoning in the country – a practice that is being perpetrated against both men and women for “crimes” such as adultery.

Be like a bonobo

(Based on speech given at the the Imbokodo Transformation Agenda Award ceremony on 24 August 2022)

Faced with the task of delivering an uplifting and motivational maritime message, I searched the internet for some inspiration, but found nothing that really fitted the brief. So donning my journalist hat, I came up with a few titles that I thought might work: 

  • Achieving your maritime mission
  • 5 Easy ways to get ahead in your maritime career
  • Maritime gains over the last two decades
  • A collaborative approach for Maritime South Africa
  • Lift as you rise on the tide – or; 
  • Be like a Bonobo

As you can see from the title of the blog – I settled on the last topic: Be like a bonobo. 

When I was in Durban in 2019 for SAIMI’s (South African International Maritime Institute) Forward Thinking Conference, I went back to my hotel room and was fascinated by the story of the bonobos on the Discovery Channel. 

For those of you who may not know what a bonobo is – it is a primate rather closely related to the chimpanzee. In fact, the two species are almost entirely identical in terms of their genetic make-up. They are, however, vastly different in terms of their lifestyles. 

It turns out that the bonobo is a largely matriarchal society which is generally a peaceloving, chilled one where there is little aggression and where there is a genuine sense of community as well as a desire to act as a group and not as an individual. 

Interestingly, this is quite different from the chimpanzee who lives just across the river. On their side of the dividing water – they exhibit an aggressive lifestyle. The patriarchal society allows male chimps to dominate their female counterparts – often resulting in severe aggression that includes infanticide. 

The documentary showed footage of both sides of the river; cutting between the two societies to amplify the differences. The chimps were marauding, violent creatures where females were often at the mercy of the bigger, stronger males. While on the bonobos’ side of the river things appeared a little more like a hippy commune where the members languished in the sun and shared food; looked after each other’s infants and generally seemed to be living in utopia. 

The obvious question then is why and how? Why are these societies so different and how can we more emulate the bonobos?

Well it turns out that there is a very real reason for these differences. Apparently a massive drought impacted the side of the river on which the chimpanzees live in a way that resulted in food shortages as well as the need to protect scarce resources from other species such as the bigger gorilla. 

The chimpanzees needed to become more aggressive to survive. This aggression spilled over into their own community and generation after generation they passed on the scarcity trauma to their descendants – even as the drought eased and resources returned. As a result the chimpanzees became an aggressive, xenophobic society where not even its own members were safe. 

By comparison, on the other side of the river, the bonobos were not faced with these same challenges and were secure in the knowledge that enough resources were available to all. And in turn this culture of sharing was therefore inculcated amongst the community – and this became the ancestral gift passed from generation to generation. 

Now you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with the maritime industry? And that’s a good question. On the surface it has absolutely nothing to do with the maritime industry actually. 

But one of the issues that keeps popping up at maritime conferences and workshops is the lack of collaboration as companies, institutions and individuals try to protect their turf or domain in the industry. Now, I would suggest that makes us more like the chimpanzees than the bonobos. 

I do understand that the pie seems to be small, but continuously cutting it up into more and more pieces is simply going to make us more hungry to become focused on our own survival at the expense of the growth of the industry. 

The mere existence of a 3,000km coastline; the vast EEZ that the South Africa has access to as well as its position at the tip of Africa on a busy trade route between East and West, means that we should be more secure in the notion that we have the resources and opportunities to help us err towards the bonobo mindset.

Many have alluded to a number of gaps in the industry. Low hanging fruit and lost opportunities should highlight that we need to expand our vision of the maritime sector to embrace its ability to accommodate new entrants, women, youth and even the expansion of existing companies. 

We need the government to listen to industry in terms of what is required to unlock many of these opportunities. The ports need to act swiftly to a changing landscape and commit to timeous delivery of capital expenditure, licensing and partnerships while removing corruption as well as the bureaucracy that stifles growth. 

We also need industry to work collaboratively across sub sectors in a way that acknowledges synergies and breaks down silos. 

In the context of the Imbokodo Awards, the Women’s Conference and women’s month – I would suggest that we can take this desire to be like a bonobo even further. 

I would argue that we cannot attain bonobo status by narrowing our view to the very binary picture we currently have of gender roles. It is not so much about allowing women to be women in the maritime industry as it is about society allowing everyone to be themselves wherever they may land on the stereotypical feminine/masculine spectrum. 

And it certainly needs to challenge the idea that men should not adopt traditionally feminine roles just as much as it needs to address the idea that women can adopt leadership roles. It needs to be inculcated into our families where parents stop presenting different household chores to sons and daughters or where fathers automatically assume the place at the head of the table at dinner time. We can only truly be authentic when we shrug off stereotypes and allow ourselves to live in the way that feels natural to us. Not all of us are leaders; not all of us are caregivers – there is a huge spectrum of opportunity that lies between these two points. 

A glance at our bonobo society shows us that the males are not expected to be the leaders, but neither are the females. The power is not assumed by either gender – but rather shared across the troop in a way that underpins the notion that power is not a scarce commodity that naturally will result in the desire to dominate.

There are currently a number of overlapping initiatives within the industry to address the silo mentality; to improve the visibility of women and youth by unlocking opportunities; to create awareness and to expand the scope of our maritime sector within the global interest to lower carbon emissions as well as to create a greener maritime space.

We need to actively identify these overlaps and commit to addressing why we are not working together to reach these goals. 

And this is why we need to be more like the bonobo. There are no silos within the bonobo society. They are actively working as one community to ensure a sustainable future for the group as a whole. They are not intent in driving domination by any one over another and have, by default, created a society where all can thrive. 

So I leave you with this mantra: be like a bonobo – see your domain as one where you do not need to grab every opportunity; where there is space for all who surround you to acknowledge their strengths wherever they lie on the spectrum. And let us unlock the hereto locked blue economy opportunities by cutting bureaucracy, territoriality and a sense of scarcity. 

20 in 2022: It’s a cover up!

Yip – you read the title correctly: it is a cover up!

Our 20th anniversary issue is due out in October and we want your help covering it up. All of our past commemorative issues have featured photos and/or collages of our choice and on this mammoth milestone we invite you to submit photos from your organisation that you feel represent your journey over the last two decades.

We are looking for high resolution jpeg files that highlight other maritime milestones over the period of our publishing journey. Our aim is to create a memorable cover that attracts the eye and provides a snapshot of the events that have brought us to this point in our maritime history.

Please submit your photos to and include the following:

  • Name of photographer
  • Name of company
  • Brief description of the photo
  • Date of photo

We will aim to use as many of the photos as possible. Oh yes – and this is absolutely free of charge. Please make sure that the photo(s) that you submit are not copyright protected.


We did nothing for seafarers

(Trigger warning – this article contains descriptions of assault)

By now the 25 June is pretty much ingrained in my mind as the International Day of the Seafarers having literally jumped on board from its inception when we attempted to create a Flash Mob in different areas around the country. We also launched the South African Seafarers’ Awards with the assistance of the South African Maritime Safety Authority.

So, believe me when I say, the date was high on my agenda this year as per usual. We were planning a maritime breakfast to raise funds. We even had (in my humble opinion) a moving tribute planned to start the event followed by a fun live quiz.

But as the date crept closer and closer on my calendar I realised this was more about our brand and becoming embroiled in the tide to outdo what everyone else had planned. And I realised that many of these tokens do not really do anything for the actual seafarers beyond highlighting the fact that there is a problem here that a symbolic gesture does not have the power to fix.

A conference highlighting the problem does just that; and then repackages itself for the following year to do the same. Holding up placards with messages of support and even our own wonderful conceptual breakfast plans do nothing for seafarers.

For me the most significant responses on the day were the seafarers telling their stories. The sad reality, however, is that these are largely circulated within the maritime domain and do not actually serve to navigate the message into the broader public who know little about the struggles these men and women face.

So we did nothing for seafarers on the 25 June this year. Quite honestly, I was disillusioned by the continuation of shocking incidents that they are facing. Recently, however, the mainstream press has covered the case being made against Maersk.

In fact, the actions of the two women, who are currently taking on the shipping giant, Maersk, for initially turning a blind eye to severe sexual harassment and assault while cadets on board their ships, are probably doing more for seafarers than any of the talkshops held internationally could have achieved.

One of the women, now identified as Hope Hicks, has publicly described how she was raped by her superior officer while serving as an engine cadet. The second woman was so traumatised on board that she slept with a knife in case she needed to protect herself during the night.

Interestingly in 2010 the shipping company was sued for a similar reason by a male crew member who was allegedly gang raped by South Korean police in 2008. According to newspaper reports from that time, when he reported it to the Captain, he was told to go to his cabin. Upon waking up later, he once again approached the Captain who said his story was too incredible to be believed. There was some controversy over the version of events at the time, but ultimately, he was awarded a financial compensation by a jury.

By now many have read or seen the countless media reports exposing a culture of assault and silence within the merchant marine. And despite Maersk’s decision to suspend and fire five crewmembers following an internal investigation – it seems that more needs to be done. Fortunately, others believe so too.

An interesting article published by Federal News Network in December last year notes that the US Merchant Marine Academy has suspended the programme that puts students at sea for a year following the reports of sexual assaults of students. In addition, the Academy has been tasked to establish a plan for dealing with this significant problem.

An even more heartening development has been the establishment of Maritime Legal Aid and Advocacy by Ryan Melogy – himself an ex-seafarer and now a qualified lawyer who also experienced sexual assault on one of Maersk’s vessels during his career.

Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organisation fighting for the human rights of seafarers and fighting to change the maritime industry.

In 2019 another organisation, Safer Waves, was launched to provide support to seafarers who were experiencing sexual assault, harassment and discrimination on board. In an attempt to get a better understanding of the prevalence of the problem they undertook a survey in 2020 and the results speak for themselves – as do the stories that are related on their site. They provide useful advice and offer a helpline to those experiencing unwanted attention at sea.

Sexual assault is, of course, not the only type of abuse that seafarers face at sea. A visit to the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance (ISWAN) website highlights many more challenges. From social isolation, abandonment, arrest and more – it is abundantly clear that the efforts within the maritime sector need to go beyond posting on social media platforms to show that they support the International Day of the Seafarer.

Because, unless they are actively helping change the onboard culture for the betterment of all seafarers, they are really doing nothing for seafarers.  

Locally on the African continent there are disparate groups of individuals and associations hoping to make a difference – but each seems to have its own agenda as well as “brand” that it wants to promote. It’s time to truly collaborate. We can do more together. What is the African proverb? “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”