When I was teaching marine studies in High Schools I would urge students to pursue their passion for the ocean, with the aim of a career in the industry. Some did the hard yards as deckies on cray boats or fish trap vessels in the northwest, while others landed jobs on wetline fishing boats, whale watching boats or dive charter vessels. Many of these students have gone on to achieve skipper qualifications from Coxswain up to Master Class 3, enabling them to skipper vessels up to 35 metres. Others gained employment in completely unrelated fields, but were still able to use their marine skills to enjoy life in the southwest. Recently, in Port Hedland, I reflected on how fortunate life was for these students, compared to the many overseas mariners dealing with life on ocean going bulk carriers.
This is my seventh trip to Port Hedland, the world’s largest bulk export port and I finally found time to go on a Seafarer’s Tour last week, which I highly recommend for anyone visiting the area. Sure the boat cruise through the port was great and being up close to massive ships was daunting and exciting, but for me it was the stories told by the Chinese tour guide that struck a chord. With 300 Seafarer Centres worldwide, these are not-for-profit organisations, with their main aim being pastoral care, services and support for seafaring people. In Port Hedland this includes internet access, recreational facilities, town bus transport, foreign currency exchange, licensed bar, private chapel and a regular port launch shuttle service ( see attached picture ). Each Seafarer Centre also has a chaplain who regularly visits vessels in port and conducts weekly services. When you consider what these crews endure on a day to day basis out sea, you begin to realise just how much they must appreciate these services. Predominantly from the Phillipines, China and other Asian countries, the crews sign up for a minimum of nine months at sea, spending most of it inside a massive steel hull in whatever conditions the ocean dishes up. $500 month is about the average income, which is an unbelievably low wage by our standards. On board they often have no recreation, no internet, no TV and other simple ‘pleasures’ in life that we take for granted. Seems bizarre really that companies who own the iron ore and ship owners who transport the ore make big profits, mine operators and even the tug boat operators in our ports make good wages, but the ones doing the hard yards in the holds of these vessels are living on a pittance. One of the ‘treats’ provided here in Hedland is the delivery of a red bag of goodies to every crew member on Christmas Day. There may be anything up to thirty vessels, each with twenty crew on board, so it is quite a task to deliver, especially to those at anchor, 16kms out to sea. So if ever you are in a harbor or port and you see a bunch of tired, weary looking overseas crew members boarding or departing a seafarer bus, give them a smile and spare a thought for what they are doing to support themselves and their families. Better still, check out the Seafarers website and facebook sites and maybe make a small donation to this charitable organisation.
To answer last week’s question, the reason the boys had to release their 40lb+ Dhuie was because they already had their two Dhuie boat limit. This week’s question is, ‘In what year did the first iron ore shipment leave Port Hedland?”
Find us on seasoaringmarine