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Wave of discontent rocks shipping industry

By Jiang Chenglong | China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-28 09:42
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Huang Jialin (right) and an officer prepare to depart Daxie Port in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, for the East China Sea. [WANG ZHUANGFEI/CHINA DAILY]

Hard work, poor pay

Those days are long gone. Now, many merchant seamen regard the job as a temporary berth.

"When I get married, I won't work as a sailor," said Wu Chao, an able seaman on the MV Tianbaohe. "It's not possible to do this job for one's whole life."

The 28-year-old from Yancheng, Jiangsu province, joined Cosco's merchant fleet in 2014 after spending five years in the People's Liberation Army Navy, during which time he took part in escort duties in the pirate-plagued waters off the coast of Somalia.

Crew members usually spend seven to nine months at sea during each voyage. After, they return to China for a vacation that should last three to five months, but is often shorter, depending on the availability of crew members and Cosco's schedule.

While officers stay with the same ship for long periods, able seamen and lower ranks are often assigned to new vessels on each voyage.

The rigid schedule means the sailors spend most of the year at sea, which can result in tensions.

"I was in a relationship for six years and we were going to get married, but we broke up when I became a sailor four years ago," Wu said. "My girlfriend's parents thought I wouldn't be able to take good care of her."
Moreover, only some senior crew members are paid while on leave, but the lower ranks receive nothing.

As an ordinary crewman, Wu earns 6,600 yuan ($1,000) a month at sea. "The money is acceptable aboard ship, but it's not nearly enough at home," he said.

The MV Tianbaohe has 10 senior crew members-including Captain Huang, who earns about 17,000 yuan a month, while the other officers make an average of 10,727 yuan-and 12 ordinary sailors, including able seamen and motormen (mechanics), who earn 6,687 yuan.

"Our incomes are no higher than on land now, such as those for couriers and food delivery riders," Huang said.

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