The merchant navy (merchant marine) isn’t exactly a very common or popular profession. There are many people around the world who are either not aware of this unique industry or have several misbeliefs about the same.
However, owing to a larger than life depiction in popular culture, it intrigues a vast majority of people who’ve never worked as, or known, a seafarer. This curiosity results in questions that seafarers are, quite understandably, repeatedly answering to every such person who has no to negligible information of the field of merchant navy.
We have heard several myths, fallacies and utter nonsense spoken by people who have no clue about the industry at all.
Here are some of the most popular myths associated with the merchant navy:
1. Seafarers Earn Loads of Money: Probably the most common aspect of a conversation with a misinformed individual, everybody seems to think that we’re cash cows that get paid a huge amount of money. Agreed, the pay is good. However, it is similar to the pay that individuals get after getting themselves a decent MBA/Masters and landing a respectable job (Of course, after certain years down the line in their careers). It is correct that the initial pay is far better than what one would get at shore, but the gap closes up as time goes by. Moreover, people at shore ought not forget the pains a seafarer has to go through to bring in that sort of money- time away from family, living at the mercy of nature, tough labour onboard etc. In our favor though, we don’t have to pay taxes, and rightfully so (Rules on taxes may vary across different countries) !
2. Seafarers Consume Alcohol All The Time: The world over seems to think that sailors have an infinite capacity for alcohol. Couple that with their idea that alcohol onboard is subsidized to the point that it’s free! This notion gives people the credibility to think that sailors drink alcohol like it’s going out of fashion. What seems to be ignored is that there are random alcohol tests onboard, and that now there is a ‘Company Policy’ against drinking and all of that. Also forgotten is the fact that drinking deters sharp judgment; and that mistakes at sea can threaten the lives of all onboard. In our favor, alcohol is indeed very cheap onboard (but that doesn’t give us the liberty to drink it freely though). Moreover, considering increasing stringent regulations, most of the ships are now becoming “no-alcohol” zones.
3. Seafarers Have Wife/Girl Friend At Every Port: The sole reason why sailors are interpreted to be inherently unfaithful! There was a time when a sailor was greeted at ports with a string of women to choose from. But then that was decades back! However, over time, with the advent of safety regulations, ISPS Code and other security measures, this has become a thing of the past. Combine that with the possibility of ruining one’s health and life back home, we have a purely fictional idea of a sailor’s entertainment at port. It is undeniable that if looked for, services can be found anywhere in the world, but that’s for any human being and not restricted to a sailor. A new country, a new port offers a plethora of sights and experiences. Also, none understands the value of a relationship (and the loyalty that goes with it) more than a sailor. Time away from loved ones doesn’t weaken bonds but strengthens them instead. Unlike others, seafarers knows the true meaning of – someone special is waiting back at home.
4. Seafarers Are Always Seasick: “Don’t you get seasick?!” One of the most common questions when a sailor proclaims proudly that he works on a ship. Seasickness is a condition that affects few. Is it not mandatory for every seafarer to feel seasick! Much like motion sickness, seasickness is subjective and affects people on a case-to-case basis. And no, it is not a big deal. People get it and then get over it gradually. Every seafarers might get homesick at some point in their careers, but there is no surety that everyone will get seasick.
5. Seafarers Have To Deal With Pirates Everyday: Yes, we know you’ve watched Captain Phillips and Pirates of the Caribbean. And yes, the former as close as it’ll get to a true depiction of an encounter such as that. We also know you are aware and also worried of the rising number of pirates around Somalia. But all the seas the world over are not sprinkled with heaps of pirates! Piracy is concentrated in certain parts of the world. Also, it is not compulsory that a pirate attack is guaranteed in those parts of the world. If safety and security measures are not executed to a full length and there are lapses in judgment, it is only then that pirates have the ability to get ship borne. Gradually though, with the advent of armed guards, things are getting much tougher and dangerous for the pirates. However, as a standalone security measure, sailors still have to make do with water hoses and barbed wires! But that doesn’t mean seafarers have to deal with pirates everyday and everywhere.
*By Shilavadra Bhattacharjee