Unprofitable ships are disposable – so are the seafarers

Let’s start with a confession. I don’t often dip into the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). When I do, it’s always after dodging their pay wall.

Again, after glancing at the headline I often move on to other things – a cup of coffee or an Angrys podcast (guess which one happens more often!).

Last week though they produced an honest headline that made the article well worth reading.  How does capitalism treat workers? Like WSJ says – 

Crews Are Abandoned on Ships in Record Numbers Without Pay, Food or a Way Home. Failing companies ditch vessels too expensive to repair or too difficult to sell, leaving behind cargo-ship castaways trapped in ports or offshore.

The article goes on to detail examples of seafarers being treated worse than chattel slaves. It quotes examples of them being marooned across the globe. There are mini case studies about mariners left without resource in countries including Romania, Greece and  Egypt  together with the United Arab Emirates and off the coast of Yemen. The seafarers who are experiencing  the nightmares in the report also started their voyages in many different parts of the world. As always, the bosses exploit and abuse our class siblings, irrespective of the accident of where we happen to be born or where we are based. 

The United Nations agency, the International Maritime Organisation summed it up – Abandonment affects real people, often leaving them in a desperate plight. Loss of wages impacts the seafarer and their family. Health may suffer and there may not be medical help. Food supplies may run out. Uncertainty about how and when the seafarer or seafarers can get home can cause a huge toll.

The point that the IMO miss is that the “real people” who are affected are not the billionaire capitalist owners or the board members who support them.

Those who suffer are workers, who sell their labour power to enable the ships to move from one part of the world to another. They are employed to maintain crucial links in the bosses’ irrational, destructive and evidently fragile supply chains. Without their work the capitalist global market could not exist.

Those efforts mean nothing when and if the owners can’t make enough profit from the seafarers’ work on any specific vessel(s). The current abandonments are happening at the same time as the WSJ article reports – Industry consolidation has yielded a half dozen shipping firms that ferry a majority of the world’s containers, reaping record profits from ocean freight’s best-ever quarter in the final three months of 2020.

Along with the ships, seafaring workers are thrown on the scrapheap wherever in the world the bosses choose. That’s the reality of the “anarchy of production” and the situation of our class in the capitalist order.