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Welcome to the shipping coalface

Lloyd’s List this week reported the deaths of five seafarers in the North Sea as well as the three months and counting hotel detentions of 19 others after an insurance dispute of which they have no part

Everyone with a well-paid desk job in white-collar shipping services should be properly grateful to the workforce that keeps the industry moving

WE STILL don’t know their names or nationalities of four out of the five people that died after British-owned general cargoship Verity (IMO: 9229178) sank in the North Sea in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

But tabloid newspapers tell us that Docenito Paler Junior has been revealed by friends as among those who will not be coming back from the trip.

Paler, a Filipino national whose rank has not been specified, was a young man, probably in his thirties to judge from the pictures on his Facebook page. He leaves behind a partner and five children.

His story serves as a reminder that, while shipping has been getting steadily safer for several decades, it remains a dangerous profession.

According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data, there were 96 recorded fatalities on merchant vessels in 2022. The real number is likely to be far higher. 

It’s no coincidence that professional seafarers notoriously regard the low-margin shortsea trades as the most stressful gig of them all. 

Crew levels are never one single person more than specified on the Minimum Safe Manning Certificate, with the fatigue that inevitably results from six hours on/six hours off working patterns and frequent port calls an omnipresent risk to mental health. 

We of course extend the industry’s best wishes to the two Verity seafarers who were rescued and are now receiving medical care, and condolences to the grieving families of those who have not survived. 

Thanks are due to the prompt rescue operations led by Germany’s Havariekommando, the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies, assisted by ships in the area including a P&O cruiseship.

We can only trust that a British response to a similar situation — something that will inevitably happen, sooner or later — would be equally effective, despite the reduced budget cuts for rescue services seen over the last decade. 

The proximate cause of the casualty was a collision with a far larger bulk carrier, the 38,000 dwt Polesie (IMO: 9488097), southwest of Helgoland. But the full story will not be known until the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, on behalf of flag state Isle of Man, issues its report, some time from now. 

At least Red Ensign group flags can be depended upon to publish casualty investigations. Even now, some 40% of major casualties don’t get that far. That is unacceptable for many reasons, not the least of them being that the relatives, partners, children and friends of deceased have a right to know how their loved one passed away.

Insurance-based compensation for the injured and the families of the deceased will be available, but the level will be dependent on where they came from.  

Payouts will be in line with life insurance policies for any citizens of the first world, and rather less generous for those from the labour supply countries such as Paler’s homeland the Philippines, which make up the majority of our industry’s workforce. 

Another sorry tale this week has been the plight of the 19 Azerbaijanis who crewed Angel (IMO: 9256406), an old flag of convenience feeder vessel that capsized in the entry to the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung in July.

The port authority is not unreasonably demanding $30m to pay for the cost of wreck removal, container retrieval and the clean-up operation that tackled bunker pollution.

The owner and its fixed premium P&I provider cannot agree on who should foot the bill, with the upshot that the crew have been detained in a local hotel for three months, even though their presence is no longer required by police.

Several have serious medical conditions; the master has recently lost his mother, but there is little prospect of him being home for her funeral.

What is gained by continuing to hold them in Taiwan? Nothing, as far as we can see. The crew has written to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to plead for clemency; she should exercise it.

Shipping supports large numbers of jobs, many of them nicely salaried white-collar positions in well-appointed offices, with a cancelled commuter train typically the worst thing that can happen on any given working day. Never forget the somewhat harsher perils faced by the men and women who make this possible. 

Those of us who work directly for shipping companies or shipmanagers, or in marine insurance, maritime law, ship finance, shipping journalism and sundry other service roles — not to mention every single consumer in the first world — ought to be properly grateful. Hold them in your thoughts.

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