Karl Denninger on the current situation, what to expect and what to do about it
Karl has a somewhat idealized view of modern seafarers. A hundred years ago it was common for merchant sailors to go ashore to engage in commerce typically involving booze, girls and fresh food. That is no longer the case. Modern merchant vessels typically load, travel, unload and load again without respite. The economics of these large vessels, which operate on rather slim margins, require that they be in continual operation 24/7 year round.
Shipping companies hire crews for three to six month stints which can be renewed at the crewman’s option. At the end of his contract he, the vast majority of seafarers are men, is paid off. Paying off requires the consent of shipping company, if he leaves the ship before his contract is ended he forfeits his pay. As he receives all his pay in a lump sum at the paying off fidelity to his contract is very important.
After his contract is completed and he is paid off, which can happen anywhere in the world, it was customary for the shipping company that hired him to pay his airline ticket back to his native place. Many of these men are married and have families who depend on the return of their seafarer for money to live on. While at sea these families receive no support from their husband, son, father, so for them the happy return means sustenance, life and time together. After a time of this the seafarer presents himself for hire to the local employment broker and sign on to another contract, is given a ticket out to meet his ship and the cycle begins again.
As Karl indicates, a great many of these men hail from the Philippines, a lot from the former Soviet block nations, the traditionally seafaring Scandinavian countries, Great Britain, India with scatterings from all over. The pay is not great; for most of the lower ranks the pay positively sucks. Once at sea the work is unrelenting. There are no days off, no weekends, no jaunts to the store, no getting away until the contract is complete and they get paid off. 24 hours a day locked in a heaving steel box with a bunch of people you hardly know, crews are not kept together, most of it spent at sea.
The sea is one of the most dangerous and challenging environments on the planet. It is the mortal enemy and great love of those who venture upon it. Just as shipping companies are parsimonious in what they pay, they tend to be penny pinchers when it comes to proper maintenance of the ships themselves, which increases the risk to those who sail them. Living conditions can be truly spartan.
The WuFlu has made everything immeasurably worse for the men who sail the ships. It is not unheard of for ships to be refused permission to dock for fear that some of the crew might be carrying the Covid-19 virus, demanding that the vessel remain isolated for two weeks before being allowed to approach a berth. Often crewmen due for rotation are refused permission to disembark And when they do leave the ship, the ticket home is not forthcoming because the it would be ruinous to the shipping company to pay the ridiculously inflated air fares. So they perforce extend their contracts and go out to sea again.
Some crews have been aboard for over a year without a break. This has led to depression and mental breakdowns in these men, exacerbated by desperate messages from home who have run out of money because their men folk can neither get paid off nor return to them. This has led to more accidents at sea, and more sinkings. As a result insurance rates have gone up, and some smaller maritime insurers have gone bankrupt.
This is the situation with the men and ships that carry 80% of the world’s commerce. Things are getting tough for us landlubbers, and will get worse over time. Things have been very hard for seafarers for a long time now and will continue to get worse. Over one hundred ships are now at anchor off Los Angeles and San Pedro harbors, an unbearable strain on shipping companies, ships, the men that man them and the families that await their return.
In your charity won’t you spare a prayer for them and their families?