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The unromantic oceans

February 15, 2011

Andrew Craig-Bennett, a professional mariner whose history of Hong Kong is linked on this blog’s front page, points to an article on the hardships of merchant mariners in the modern world. A century ago, intermingling at ports provided social relief, sometimes aid, always advice, and occasionally escape, from hardships at sea. And flavored the nature of port cities. That is no more, with fast turn-around, and ports almost hermetically sealed from the nations they serve. ACB adds, of the gating of US ports in the wake of 9/11:

 

I see your Government has no plan to repeal it, although the total number of merchant seamen having anything to do with terrorism has always been nil, zero, zilch, nada. The law was idiotic to start with, because the crew of a merchant ship seldom know where she is going, so they could not plan something in advance, and in the case of those ships whose route is known, such as container ships, the crew are known, and have been known to their employers for years. These men are not press-ganged off some dockside; they are trained, they have all got certificates (yes,these could be faked, but the incompetence of the man would show him up aboard, etc. Frankly, the USA delivers a kick in the teeth to those who keep you all in fuel, food and toys.

The Pacific islands are another part of our cultural vision of the oceans, a vision partly shaped by WW II, and a reality completely reshaped by globalization since. Fishers and farmers have turned into trapped laborers. One consequences is that Pacific islanders are now the fattest people in the world. The photo is a “Groupe of Fijians,” by J. W. Waters, Suva circa 1910. Fiji is now governed by a dictator who came to power by coup a few years ago.

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