By Maya Flaminda J. Vandenbroeck
for Mindanews .
(Second of four parts)
The whole time he was working without pay together with other applicants who shared the same bedroom and ate the same food while standing by for a slot to open up on a ship.
The six months stretched out and Erwin began to lose hope. Finally, after two years of waiting, the call finally came to board a cargo ship and Erwin joined the crew as “messman.” It was the lowest position on the ship involving cleaning officers’ rooms, washing dishes, and serving food to the crew. But Erwin quickly moved up the ranks due to his hard work and joining and risking as many “upgrading” trainings as he could. Needless to say, today, Erwin is a second mate in charge of charting a ship’s route from Brazil to America, Nigeria, and Germany.
What’s unusual is that Erwin works several months on a ship and then stays home several months – instead of just one month like other seafarers. Erwin explains, “No sailor really enjoys life on a ship. The captains hold the meal budget and scrimps or makes unreasonable demands like insisting on immediate reports that realistically need more time to do. The crew seldom gets enough to eat, rest and sleep.” Erwin thinks that if seafarers have a choice, they will stay home longer.
Erwin can afford to stay home for months at a time because he prioritized spending for his own training instead of buying appliances, branded clothes, and other “wants” that seafarers usually have. As a result, Erwin’s not bound to any shipping company and is free to decide when he wants to leave and work again on a ship. “I simply wait for a ship that I know has a captain who treats his sailors well. Otherwise I don’t go,” he says.
Sailors whose training is paid for by a shipping company have no such freedom. They are only home a couple of weeks to a month because either the shipping company calls for them to start working again or they use up their savings. “A seafarer gets off the ship and splurges on his family, relatives, neighbors and friends like it’s a month long fiesta. (to be cont’d)