* * *
last week, there was some hubbub in the news when one of the tabloids reported that the former minister of commerce, who recently stepped down from his post and from the leadership of the conservative party (of his own accord, by the way), had been on a whole lot of golf outings and hunting trips with the glittering heads of the danish business community. i'll admit that doesn't really surprise me all that much. it's called lobbying. companies do it. politicians partake. and influence is won, influence which actually goes both ways. it's how business is transacted. where's the scandal?
one of his big causes, no doubt as a result of these golf games and hunting trips, was something called "det blå danmark," which led a rather significant campaign to keep denmark among the main seafaring nations in the merchant fleet of the world. a big part of it is/was a drive to get young people to choose seafaring and shipping in general as a career. it wasn't the most effective campaign in the world, as far fewer are seeking admission to the officers' education than are needed. however, i'm not convinced that it was the wrong campaign, but more that going off to sea isn't really as appealing as a career anymore.
there are a variety of reason for this, as i see them:
- young danish women expect their man to take part in household duties on an equal basis. if there are kids, the men are in there changing diapers. if you're out sailing half the year, it's a bit tough for this to be equal.
- young danish men, while largely very attractive, are, to put it bluntly, afraid of the young danish women and their expectations. on other words, they're pussy whipped (to put it even more bluntly). this is bad for the officers' education (which although open to girls, is still overwhelmingly populated by boys). (clarification: this renders the boys too scared to choose this career.)
- people can't imagine being out of touch--they expect internet, SMSing, email. not all ships have this onboard, as satellite broadband solutions are still very expensive. ships generally have email, but it's pushed to the satellite by the captain a couple of times a day. young people (and i would count myself here), can't imagine being without their twitter and facebook and blog and what have you. do we exist if we're not online these days?
- seafaring is no longer a way to see the world. port stays are short and people are working their fannies off with loading and offloading cargo during the entire stay. there's very little time for shore leave.
- people these days no longer feel "married" to a particular career. we try a variety of things and have different jobs in different industries. people don't go to work for one company at 20 and retire from the same company at 65.
- in denmark, the education to be a finished senior officer, including sailing time, takes 7 years. if people want to take a 7-year education, they become a doctor. those fiddling with this education have misunderstood their audience--people who want a long education aren't interested in being seafarers and people who are interested in being seafarers are not interested in a long education. (i'm generalizing, but it holds up pretty well.)
there needs to be a revolution in the way ships are crewed if this is going to become an appealing career choice. perhaps treating it more like the airlines do. when the ship "lands" in a port, a new crew could take over the offloading and loading, while the sailing crew gets some time off ashore--thereby getting to see a bit of the world. of course, this only works for cargo vessels, the whole offshore support vessel world is another story--and they've already made adjustments--wherein people are on shorter rotations (2 weeks on, 2 weeks off in some cases).
there are great things about sailing as your job. if you're northern european, you're probably home for half the year and out sailing the other half. not a lot of jobs can boast of 6 months paid vacation. it's less for people from other countries (e.g. the philippines, which provides 25% of the world's seafarers)--they are generally out for 9-10 months and home only 2-3 months a year. it depends on what conditions you're culturally willing to accept and it depends on how good your unions are. northern europeans have had strong unions, so the conditions are pretty good.
but, back to that commerce minister...i wonder what will happen now that he's gone? the young, smart, up-and-coming young lady who replaced him doesn't appear to be the golf course/hunting schmoozing type. and she' seems a bit fancy for det blå danmark, so she'll no doubt have another pet cause. but it seems to me that it's important for denmark on a geopolitical stage to be a seafaring nation. when you're pretty much entirely dependent on trade because you don't really have that many natural resources (a bit of oil in the danish sector of the north sea), having a role in international merchant shipping seems important. if there's no one in the government with the ear of the shipowners, reflagging ships to flags of convenience (marshall islands, liberia and the like) and getting those sailing personnel elsewhere (read: at lower costs) and moving ship/crewing management to places like singapore just might start to look very appealing to the bottom line. especially in these times where no stone of savings is left unturned. denmark's geopolitical position aside, what will it mean for the several thousand danes who are sailing in the merchant fleet today? and where will the danish shipowners get their experienced seagoing personnel for key positions ashore if no one goes to sea anymore?
i fear a time of short-term thinking and solutions is on the horizon and that they will have long-term consequences. i wish those good old boys would get back out on the golf course and sort this out.