27 November 2012

Portuguese Merchant Marine

Vasco da Gama must be turning over in his tomb, in Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, if he's following what happened to the Merchant Fleet of this so-called "Nation of Seafarers" during the past thirty-five years.
From one of the biggest merchant marines in Europe, during the forties, fifties and sixties, we ended up with a miserable cabotage fleet, comprising a handful of vessels, almost totally dedicated to the public service of supplying the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and Açores.
And I'm sad to see how things also changed so fast (for the worst) during the past two decades. When I entered in the Portuguese Nautical School (Escola Náutica Infante D. Henrique), in 1990, I remember that things were already in a fast decline. I recall that, most of the times, we were discussing among each other the sadness of arriving to a professional market that was already, by the time and in Portugal, anachronic and heading towards collapse.
During those days (and I say again: only twenty-two years ago), I remember that we still had about thirty shipowners and, roughly, seventy ships, most of them still under Portuguese traditional register and flag.
Almost five years later, when I boarded a merchant vessel to start my career at sea, the vast majority of that fleet was gone forever.
It's sad to see that we should, particularly now, be looking once again to our vast Atlantic border as a form of escaping to the economical dramas faced by the continental Europe. Just like we did almost six hundred years ago, when we first noticed that this little parcel of land was to small for our ambition and our entrepreneurial vision.
And the solutions for this are already around us. We just have to look for them, learn with them and adapt them to our particular needs. Like a former Captain of mine used to say, we were not aboard to invent anything. Everything was already invented.
But not in this country. Here, we don't have the humility to learn from those who know better. And some of them, paradoxically, were not even maritime nations two hundred years ago. But they are now. And powerful ones.
The weak government we have nowadays and the corrupt political "nomenklatura" that supports it doesn't have the slightest idea where to lead the nation. Which course to steer.
And I'm starting to get tired of listening, year after year, the empty, ignorant and incongruent speeches of both politicians and academic "summities" praising the benefits of returning to the sea and thus fulfilling our destiny as a nation. Empty words of ignorants that don't have the slightest idea of what kind of sea strategy they are talking about, since, most of the times, they don't even waste their precious time to write their own speeches.
We have a saying in Portugal: a weak King weakens a strong people. Poor people and poor country. Are we really to blame for the incompetents that rule us?
The cabotage boat "Rival", navigating in the waters of Faial, Açores, almost twenty years ago. A sad visual metaphor of the present day's Portuguese Merchant Fleet. A nation whose destiny was, once, the sea.
Picture taken with Pentax SF1 and Pentax - A SMC 70-200 f/4 lens.
Agfachrome 100 RS scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop LIghtroom.