Ditch the important wife!

Towards the end of last year there were many vessels entering the water for the first time. As a maritime journalist I generally get invited to these events and I am always fascinated by the choice of lady sponsor on these occasions. The tradition of breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow of the vessel before bestowing good wishes on her and her crew continues to hold strong as does the necessity of bequeathing the honour to a woman.

More often than not, however, the women is still the wife of “someone important” and seldom the “someone important”. While I do not want to go as far as to say that this is a sad indictment on the role that women may be playing (or not playing) in the maritime industry, it does make one pause a little.

It is also testament to the lack of a little bit of imagination in the industry. While the usual designated “important person” at a shipping company may not be a woman – it is highly unlikely that there are absolutely no relevant and deserving women within that company that could be acknowledged in this way. Because being given the honour of this tradition just because you are “someone important’s” wife just seems a little archaic.

I do understand that by asking the “someone important’s” wife to crack the bottle, one is actually honouring his position and that this may be the politically correct move, but wouldn’t it be great if he actually deferred from dragging his wife out to a ship that she may have no interest in and took the opportunity to honour someone more directly involved?

So by all means ask “someone important” if he would like his wife to bless the next ship you launch, but let’s hope against all odds that he may have someone even more directly relevant to that ship’s journey in mind.




Over the last few weeks the Bring Back Our Girls (#bringbackourgirls) campaign has ignited quite a following across the globe. Initially fueled by many people’s outrage that the media had all but ignored the story, this grew to a lambasting of international super-powers for not stepping in to assist Nigeria find the girls. Mostly the argument followed the rather simplistic course that, if this had happened to 200 white schoolgirls the media would have been all over it and that if it was a situation that jeopardised America’s access to oil then they would have sent in the troops.

This is not the place to debate either of these suppositions and certainly the plight of these girls is one of grave concern. Indeed the message to Bring Back Our Girls has gone viral and everyone is standing up in support of it: from the ANC Women’s league to individuals keen to pen, blog and tweet about it to get in on the action. Even corporates are parading employees in front of cameras and posting photos of them holding up signs with the Bring Back Our Girls message on them – some of them in the maritime industry.

So damn it – where is the #BringBackOurSeafarers campaign? Why is every shipping company, support company, port company, importer, exporter and seafarer not jumping up and down for more media coverage about the plight of 54 seafarers who are still being held hostage in deplorable conditions. According to the recently released document on the State of Maritime Piracy by Oceans Beyond Piracy these seafarers have been held in captivity for almost three years.

“Substantial work must still be done in the interest of saving the lives of the 54 high risk hostages who remain in pirate captivity almost three years after their capture. Moreover, the continued ability of pirates to hijack small vessels such as dhows and fishing vessels is a continued risk. It is important to remember that piracy is not only a threat to the free flow of goods, but also to the well-being of individual seafarers, regardless of their vessel size or nationality. It is evident that the number of hostages in captivity, while trending downward, remains of immediate relevance to counter-piracy work and should be prioritized by the maritime and international communities,” the report says. 

While I am personally doubtful of the true effectiveness of viral campaigns such as the one directed at releasing the Nigerian schoolgirls and feel they simply help us feel better about being powerless in the face of such atrocities; what if they are even slightly successful in seeing their safe return as a global eye is turned to the situation?

What if viral campaigns do prompt the appropriate action? Then the maritime industry needs to be more active in pushing the agenda. Yes we have had successful intervention at sea in the form of naval presence, armed guards and vessel hardening – but 54 seafarers are still no closer to going home. So as you spare a thought for the schoolgirls and their families – spare a thought for those seafarers and their families and consider some action. #BringBackOurSeafarers.




The Safmarine Way

Today I received a press release that compels a comment. Apparently Safmarine was recognised at an awards ceremony yesterday. To quote the title of the press release: “Safmarine wins coveted Containerisation International Investment in People of the Year’ award”. Surely I am not alone in finding this just a little ironic?

This award comes exactly ten days after the announcement that Safmarine’s corporate functions would be “integrated” into Maersk and certainly not outside of the memory of the closing of a certain Safmarine department based in Cape Town.

Now one does understand that the judging was done some time back, but one cannot help but think that the some 240 people likely to be affected by this latest “integration” into Maersk may well find this announcement to be a bit of a slap in the face. Especially as the press release quotes a judge saying; “The entries demonstrated just how important staff are in any organisation and what can be achieved in terms of performance and branding ….”

To his credit, Safmarine’s HR Director Con De Ruig did have the decency to allude to the recent “changes in organisational structure” when he accepted the award. “Safmarine faces its greatest test ever and will, through its people, continue to serve customers in the Safmarine Way,” he said.

While one can certainly understand that the decision to integrate Safmarine into Maersk makes complete business sense and even commend them on maintaining separate operations for so long – it surely must have been a little embarrassing to accept such an award and send out a press release of this nature so soon after announcing the Maersk integration!

Perhaps that’s just the Safmarine Way!


In memory of those at sea

On the 24th June 2010 a string of events culminated in the death of a young South African cadet serving on board the Safmarine Kariba. The discovery that Akhona Geveza had allegedly jumped overboard disturbed the maritime industry deeply and sent the media into a frenzy of headlines that spoke of rampant sexual abuse of cadets at sea. The next day – on the 25th June 2010 – the vessel returned to the place where Akhona had been found to hold a memorial service and lowered a floral wreath into the sea.

For some months media speculation around the actual facts surrounding the death of Akhona continued while the Croatian authorities investigated the incident. Locally Safmarine seemed perplexed that newspaper reporters had managed to uncover an apparent legacy of sexual harassment that extended beyond the current incident; and journalists did not name their sources in these allegations. Further investigations ensued and reports that the South African Maritime Safety Authority planned to conduct their own investigations surfaced this year.

In their July issue of Navigator (an inhouse publication), Safmarine devotes three pages to Akhona Geveza and the events that surrounded her death. They trace her last day onboard the Safmarine Kariba and discuss why they do not feel that the allegations of sexual misconduct existed on their fleet of vessels.

Capt Louise Angel weighs in on the debate saying; “A ship is run like a small community; this is our home for three to six months at a time and there is always someone you can turn to onboard if you have any kind of problem, and everybody generally knows everybody’s business. Our ‘bush telegraph’ onboard is finely tuned for sources of information (aka gossip) and at no time have we heard any allegations of sexual misconduct onboard any Safmarine ships.”

One cannot expect however, that those that travel our seas are always one hundred percent happy or one hundred percent at ease. Just as we experience our ups and downs in our own daily lives on land – seafarers must surely experience theirs. That we can take day off or easily seek comfort from our family or friends is something we take for granted. That we have the option of going home after a tough day in the office and relaxing with a glass of wine (or going to the gym for that matter) is another given.

Seafarers are stuck with their colleagues 24/7 for extended periods of time – a situation that must surely lead to periods of mental discomfort. For the most part they can move forward and look ahead to a time when they come ashore, but (for whatever reasons) Akhona was not able to do so and the whole maritime industry needs to acknowledge that the support systems in place failed this young cadet.

And so it is fitting that Tomas Dyrbye, CEO of Safmarine is quoted as saying; “We deeply regret any possible lapse in our duty of care which may have played a part in this sad incident and we remain deeply remorseful that we, despite our best efforts, could not have prevented Akhona’s death.”

But the industry also has to move forward. We have to continue to attract suitable candidates to engage with a career at sea and we have to continue to honour those that do.

Tomorrow is The International Day of the Seafarer. If you are in the maritime industry – what are you doing to say thank you to these men and women who have committed to the challenges at sea? In South Africa we have teamed up with some of the progressive maritime companies including Smit Amandla Marine, Grindrod and SAMSA to publicly demonstrate our appreciation. We will be participating in Flash Mobs around the country in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Mossel Bay.

What are you doing?

Shipping will show the ripple effect of quake

Japan may be showing the very real physical and traumatic effects of last week’s earthquake, but the shipping industry will demonstrate the ripple effect of globalisation as the economic impact of damaged port infrastructure on the island takes hold.

With some 1020 ports in Japan, it may not seem significant that Reuters is reporting damage to only six major ports, but a closer look at the trade as well as commodities handled by these ports should point to an even larger impact.

Consider too Japan’s current ranking as an economic superpower. Third only to the US and China – Japan’s ability to trade will impact on the global market and consequently the wheels (or more accurately the propellers) that drive that trade.

To put this in perspective, Lloyds List predicts a  $3.4 billion a day loss in seaborne trade each day the ports remain closed in Japan and attributes a total of $1.5 trillion to maritime trade in 2010 for the island.

And so at a time when the global shipping industry debates freight rates in an environment of overcapacity, some economists are predicting an increase in dry bulk rates as Japan attempts to replenish stocks of coal and imports materials required for the rebuild process.

Indeed, there is no doubt that certain companies will already be mobilising for a piece of the very large pie that will most certainly result from the world’s third most economically active nation preparing  to rebuild its port infrastructure to ensure that it remains economically connected to its trading partners.