“How long will your cruise to Tanzania be?”
“About five weeks around Cape of Good Hope,” the crewman answered.
We were sitting on an L-shaped vinyl couch around a table in the crew’s mess hall on the ship. I commented, “well this certainly isn’t a cruise liner.” They all chuckled.
Drogba, is a British owned bulk cargo carrier flagged and operated by a Singapore company.
“You don’t go through the Suez Canal?” I asked.
“Does that save money?” A matter of fact, yes, $465,000. And only a day longer.
For the crew, all from the Philippines, like 800,000 of their countrymen, the sea is a way of life — and increased income.
Chaplain Karen Parsons, of the Seafarers’ Center, has brought me aboard as part of her visitation ministry to crew members far from home on nine monthlong contracts. We spoke to the chief mate, the number-two man in charge of this ship. Other crew members included deckhands, an engine man and the assistant cook.
They ranged in experience from a 20-year-old on his first cruise to the chief with 27 years. After 10 years he took a two-year break yet, his family couldn’t afford the reduced income so he went back to sea. He has a son, majoring in psychology at a private university in St. Carlos, and a daughter, who after seven years will become a lawyer.
Karen asked, “Will she make a good living as an attorney in the Philippines?”
He answered, “I don’t know, but she loved to read. Ever since she was a young girl she selected the thickest book, not children’s books.” He beams with pride. The children’s education comes with a penalty — his absence for nine months out of the year.
With a masters license he could become a captain of a cargo vessel; however, he wants to stay chief to gain more experience.
While we visited, the assistant cook brought us sweet bread and water. He allowed me to make a cup of instant coffee, while not Mod Coffeehouse, it wasn’t bad. When he returned to the galley I whispered to Karen, “I wonder if they got this bread in New Orleans, the last stop?”
She answered, “No, it was made today on the ship.” Wow.
All of the crew were thin, so I remarked, “You must work hard not to put on weight.” The cook laughed.
His hours are from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week with a two hour rest break from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., a good tradition left by the Spanish.
Karen asked every crew member about their family. Each spoke with pride, with a bit of sadness, in their voice. Seafarers pay a high price for us to have low costs. Months apart with only rare internet conversations with their family.
With U.S. regulations this crew couldn’t get off the ship in Galveston. They could only stare at the wonderful community their labor provides us.
Visit the Seafarer Center.
Alvin Sallee lives in Galveston.