Plight of seafarers highlighted by ‘dumb situation’
WHAT started as a unique artist residency program for British filmmaker Rebecca Moss has turned into a bizarre predicament, as she and the crew of the Hanjin Geneva wait for word when the ship currently anchored some 20 kilometers off the coast of Japan will eventually be allowed to dock.
Moss boarded the Hanjin Geneva at Roberts Bank, California on August 24 for what was supposed to be a 23-day voyage to Shanghai as part of an artist residency program called “23 Days at Sea.” The program, sponsored by a Vancouver art gallery, provided artists with a chance to work undisturbed on a long sea voyage, but turned into something else when on August 31 Hanjin filed for court receivership in its home country of South Korea.
Moss, who unlike the majority of the world’s seafarers at least has some connection to the outside world through Twitter (on average, only about 12 percent of ocean-going cargo crews have internet access), shared some of her frustration at her unexpected celebrity.
“‘Stranded’ implies that this inaction is an accident, we are deliberately being kept here by #HanjinShipping,” she tweeted last Saturday.
After several of Hanjin’s ships were seized by creditors immediately after the bankruptcy filing, the company ordered its vessels still at sea to remain there, pending the outcome of negotiations with various ports to allow them to land and discharge their cargoes. In additional to several thousand crewmen, billions of dollars of customer cargo is also stranded on what some have dubbed the ‘ghost ships.’ Samsung reported last week that at least $38 million of its products were stuck aboard five different Hanjin ships in different locations around the world.
“Still waiting on the Hanjin Geneva. Another week of inactivity and absence of communication?” Moss tweeted Monday from the ship, the 20th day of her trip.
Kimberly Phillips, the director of Vancouver’s Access Gallery that manages the artist residency program, said that although it was unintended, the strange plight that befell Rebecca Moss presented a “tremendous opportunity” for her work.
In an interview with CNN, Phillips said, “It actually underscores perfectly the aims of the residency in the first place. A consideration of time and duration, unpinned from the cadence of everyday life, as well as an attempt to make visible a global system of seaborne freight that most of us remain blissfully unaware of.”
Phillips did point out, however, that Moss is not alone in her strange predicament.
“This focus on a single artist caught within the immensity of an unsustainable capitalism seems to be eclipsing the experiences of many hundreds of crew and officers in the same (or far worse) situation,” she said in an email.
For Moss, the trip has understandably been an emotional roller coaster.
“I change between emotions of amusement to anger and incredulity,” she said. “It is a dumb situation.”
Hanjin Shipping was unavailable for comment on the plight of the Hanjin Geneva, but in several news reports was quoted as reassuring its customers that it “was making every effort to arrange for the safe landing and delivery of cargoes.”
Moss, meanwhile, has said that the captain of the Hanjin Geneva has told everyone on board to conserve food and water.