“There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.” — “Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad

The sea has been a prime site for exploitation from 1500 B.C. Phoenician slave-rowed boats through ships of today.

Seafarers and sailors often pay an unseen price in our world of cruise and cargo ships. The Golden Ray comes to mind. Away from family for months, isolated, with little social interaction while employed in a largely unregulated industry. Coming mostly from former colonies, seafarers easily can serve as cogs in the wheels of the maritime business.

In 2015 there were 1.6 million seafarers, led by the Philippines and Indonesia. The Russian Federation, Ukraine and India rounded out the top five. China’s seafarers have limited international roles.

At Pier 39 is a 659-foot-long ship with a crew’s lounge 30-feet wide, a small living quarters for 28 Filipino crew members, each with separate cabins. The small group rarely gets off the ship over their nine month contracts, thanks in part to U.S. regulations.

U.S. immigration allows a 29-day period to visit our ports, even though they have been screened. This crew spent almost two weeks in New Orleans waiting for the load. They were able to get off only one day.

A week sailing, and another waiting off Galveston for the grain to arrive. Twenty-nine days expired, so the crew wasn’t allowed off. Unable to use the internet, spend money at the box stores, or pick up packages, they could only stand at the rail and look across the wharf into our town.

Cruise line companies reported 2018 yearly profits as: Carnival, $3.2 billion; Royal Caribbean, $1.8 billion; and Norwegian, $954.8 million.

Their employees’ median salaries for long hours were: Norwegian, $20,101; Royal Caribbean, $19,396; and Carnival, $16,622.

CEO pay: Norwegian, Frank Del Rio, $22.6 million; Carnival, Arnold Donald, $13.5 million; and Royal Caribbean, Richard Fain, $12.4 million.

Exploitation is treating someone unfairly to benefit from their work. CEOs make over 1,000 times more than an average worker. Unfair?

Number of employees for each company: Carnival, 154,161; Royal Caribbean, 77,000; and Norwegian, 33,200. Yes, this will be on the final exam.

We should appreciate the largely unknown people who play such critical sea-related roles in our community. Seafarers need friends in ports of call.

In Galveston, the friend since 1839 has been the Seafarers’ Center in the 1870’s John Koobbel Building. Bought by the Moody Foundation in 1977, it’s on 20th Street, just steps from busy wharves.

Chaplain Karen Parsons, Kimberly Hall, Denise Hightower-Aguilar and volunteers humanize seafarers who place themselves in jeopardy for weeks at a time on the high seas transporting bananas to wind turbines, to provide for their families.

On these vessels are fathers, brothers, uncles, and sons, mothers, sisters and daughters who labor far from home and look to the center as a place of respite and reconnection.

Alvin Sallee lives in Galveston.


(8) comments

Bailey Jones

I saw the Seafarer's Center pop up when I was map surfing downtown. I wondered what it was. Let's hope the Filipino sailors keep the stock holders happy. I'd hate to see their CEO lose his bonus.

"History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition." - Milton Friedman

Miceal O'Laochdha

Bailey, The Galveston Seafarers Center is holding their annual fund-raiser Gala this Saturday evening at the Hotel Galvez. Honoree is the Galveston Propeller Club and theme is "Anchors Aweigh". It is an excellent event and this is the primary source of funding for this non-profit organization that does extraordinary work in supporting foreign seamen who, unlike American seamen, have no labor unions to protect and advocate for them. They mostly have only the loose network of Seaman's Clubs and Seafarers Centers in ports around the world. I encourage you to attend the Gala; individual tickets are $150.00 (tax deductible, of course). Representative of the Port and Wharves Board, as well as the Port tenants and labor leaders will be in attendance. The Coast Guard Captain of the Port and Commanding Officer of the Texas City Marine Safety Unit will be there; and the Chaplain has some truly moving stories of her work with mariners is distress that will be shared. Live and silent auctions, excellent food, entertainment by TAMUG student orchestra. Please lend you support to assist exploited mariners. Call the Center at 409-762-0026 and ask for Denise or Susan to reserve tickets. Website: galvestonseafarerscenter.org There is still time to reserve seats and I think you will enjoy the interaction with a broad range of our maritime community.

Bailey Jones


Bailey Jones

I'm afraid I don't have the time or attire for such a fancy event - but I will sign up for a monthly contribution, it seems like a fine cause.

Miceal O'Laochdha

That is generous Bailey, and very much appreciated!

Charlotte O'rourke

My grandfather had some great stories about his travels and adventures shipping out, and as a result I’ve had a lifelong fascination and respect for the maritime industry.

AJ LeBlanc

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me." - Herman Melville

Miceal O'Laochdha

"Due to the debauched and feckless nature of today's seamen, order shall be maintained by all means, not to exclude the use of main force and Mate's shall be chosen accordingly" -Sterling Hayden (Voyage).

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