They've been stuck for months on cargo ships now floating off Southern California. They're desperate

They've been stuck for months on cargo ships now floating off Southern California. They're desperate

10/17/2021 3:48:00 PM

They've been stuck for months on cargo ships now floating off Southern California. They're desperate

On ships caught in the huge floating traffic jam off L.A., seafarers with scant access to vaccines have been stuck in limbo for months. Unions tell of despair and violence.

PrintAbrorizki Geraldy Aulia, the son of a ship’s captain, is part of the new generation that moves more than 80% of the world’s raw materials, parts and merchandise on commercial cargo fleets. At 24, he has already traveled farther by ship than most people ever will.

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It’s heady stuff. Strange then, that he should feel so absolutely powerless.Maritime union protections say Aulia should sail no more than 11 months a year on a contract with an employer-paid flight home at the end, but the Indonesian native has worked 15 straight months without a break. In June 2020, he boarded a cargo ship months before any country started vaccinating against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aulia is a valuable piece of the engine that powers world commerce, but he is never allowed to leave his ship. Like hundreds of other sailors marooned in theoff the Southern California coast, he had long been unable to get vaccinated and so is restricted to ship.

Advertisement300,000 of these migrant merchant sailorshave been stranded on vessels at sea or in ports around the world, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a London-based trade union that is among the maritime agencies lobbying governments to address what’s been labeled the “crew-change crisis.”

They endure unbroken monotony and growing desperation. Their unions and charity groups describe exhaustion, despair, suicide and violence at sea, including at least one alleged murder on a cargo ship headed to Los Angeles.Suicide prevention and crisis counseling resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Text “HOME” to 741741 in the U.S. and Canada to reach theCrisis Text Line.“It’s hard for me. I just hope my family understands why I’m not home yet,” Aulia told a reporter while his ship, the South Korean flagged vessel Pan Amber, used one of its own cranes to unload a shipment of steel. His bright orange uniform was so stained from his duties that he looked like an auto mechanic at the end of a very bad day.

Aulia, who earns$460 a month, said he never wanted a life working the seas, but the ties between this son and his father were binding. “His dying wish. For me to become a seafarer. I am fulfilling his dream. It’s not that I want to. I have to.” His other reasons are just as important because the money he earns is vital. “I am sending all of my money back home to my mother,” he said.

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Aulia was one of the seafarers who answered the call in summer 2020 when weeks of pent-up consumer demand, powered by stimulus checks and cash stored up during lockdowns, started a tsunami of ocean-traveling goods.AdvertisementIt strained all parts of the global supply chain, causing ruptures still being felt today as dozens of cargo ships anchored outside Southern California ports wait to unload parts for factories, merchandise for retailers’ shelves and online orders destined for consumer doorsteps.

The South Korean flagged bulk cargo ship Pan Amber at dock on Oct. 14 at the Port of Long Beach, delivering a load of steel with one of its own cranes. Some of its crew members had been on board for as long as 15 months without a break.(Ronald D. White / Los Angeles Times)

The Pan Amber, with its aging and sunburned orange and yellow paint job, had to waitonly a few days for its turn to dock at the Port of Long Beach, the nation’s No. 2 behind cargo container champ and next-door neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles.That’s because the Pan Amber is a small break-bulk freight carrier, which hauls loose cargo as vessels have done for thousands of years, and unloads at less crowded docks than container ships, which became dominant

after the modern steel cargo boxwas invented in the 1950s and made shipping vastly more efficient.Cargo ships, which range in size from huge to gargantuan, are labor-lean operations with a dozen to three dozen crew members. Most are paid meager wages and work long hours.

The vast majority of cargo vessels and their crews hail from foreign countries. Sixty years ago, the U.S. Merchant Marine ruled the waves of commercial shipping. Now U.S. flagged merchant ships numberonly 181, or 0.4% of the global fleet,because they are more expensive to build, repair and outfit with U.S.-citizen crews backed by strong unions.

Stress on sailors has been well known since at least 2012, when psychological studies examined relatively high suicide rates among seafarers who had experienced everything from pirate attacks to colleagues who went missing at sea to catastrophic and deadly accidents. Boredom is acute, but there are worse results.

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Everything you should know about the supply chain nightmare causing gridlock at L.A. portsA global supply chain breakdown has resulted in gridlock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and beyond.Imagine weeks at sea or at anchor without the ability to contact loved ones, spotty Wi-Fi connections at ports, living on a food budget that amounts to $7.50 per person, per day. Imagine living in cramped quarters, confined to a 680-foot by 98-foot ship for months longer than you agreed to, your direct contact limited to a couple of dozen other crew members.

And the coronavirus has added a two-fold stress increase.AdvertisementThe unvaccinated crews fear catching COVID-19, and no U.S. port will allow unvaccinated seafarers to leave their vessels.The same is true of other seaports around the world, said Stefan Mueller-Dombois, a ship inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation. All have barred them from the biggest respite they had, he said, which was getting off the ships while they are at port, as in the good old days of 2019.

“There are many concerns about their emotional well being,” added Samson Chauhan, a member of the Lutheran Maritime Ministry who travels from ship to ship at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to provide religious and spiritual support.Ship Master Fe Mar Logronio Quintana, in white, talks to Stefan Mueller-Dombois, right, a ship inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation, while his bulk cargo ship, the MV Ocean Satoko, was docked at the Port of Long Beach last week delivering a shipment of cement. Quintana was thanking Mueller-Dombois for verifying that his crew members were going to receive vaccinations before the ship left for its next destination.

(Ronald D. White / Los Angeles Times)“It’s like the seafarers are stuck in a prison,” Chauhan said. “All they see every day is steel and containers and other crew members. And what happens? Sometimes they collide with each other.”Some crew members are having suicidal thoughts, Chauhan said. Some have acted on them.

Chauhan and others have been summoned to ships to provide spiritual and emotional counsel from other trauma.“We were called in to arrange for Catholic chaplains to comfort the other crew members” who witnessed a September 2020 shipboard attack that left a supervisor dead,

said retired Navy Capt. Dick McKenna, who serves as chief executive of the International Seafarers Center, a safe spot with a clubhouse atmosphere near the ports where seafarers can bunk, soak up all of the Wi-Fi bandwidth available and relax.From left: Stefan Mueller-Dombois, inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation; Gary Fox, chairman of the board of International Seafarers Center; Capt. Dick McKenna, president & CEO of the center; and Pat Pettit, manager of the center. The world’s cargo seafarers are pandemic victims, unwelcome at ports around the world because they haven’t been vaccinated. One of the biggest perks of sailing aboard a cargo container ship was arriving at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where they could relax and unwind at a specially built clubhouse with Wi-Fi, a pool table and a large screen TV, and more. They could get rides to their favorite retail outlets, where the arrival of merchant seaman looked like a Black Friday shipping scrum for things most of us take for granted: toothpaste, shampoo, snacks and small presents for the family back home. Now, the ongoing pandemic means that the largely unvaccinated seafarers are not allowed to leave their ships in L.A.-L.B. or any other major seaport. Some have been stuck at sea for as long as 15 months. Only vaccinated American seamen can visit the Seafarers Center now.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)During the incident, Filipino sailor Michael Dequito Monegro used two knives to repeatedly stab his fellow crew member aboard the MSC Ravenna container ship as it traveled to the L.A. port from China,filed in federal court in Los Angeles. Two witnesses heard Monegro tell the victim, “You are the one that destroyed my family,” according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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Can we get a doctor to the ship with vaccines? This is just dumb. At the very very least they deserve extended Shore leaves in rotation and we should give them the courtesy of putting them up on land for some time

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