A container vessel being loaded in Halifax, c 1990.
This photograph is of a class called “stock imagery”, sold by agencies or, increasingly, websites to which photographers provide images in the hope of additional income. Stock imagery is drawn upon by publishers and websites of all sorts. This image might sell to a trade magazine or website providing news and business contacts in the shipping industry, if their feature item concerned the port of Halifax.
The photographer recalls that, in an era before terrorism, access to the port was not difficult. The guard at the gate simply pointed to the parking lot, and the port manager, on the strength of an interest in model railroads shared with the photographer, provided a safety vest and helmet, a tour of the most photogenic parts of the facility, and an introduction to the captain of the vessel being loaded. This image was taken from the roof of the ship’s bridge.
Ships like this are manned by about 20 people, including the Captain (in the maritime world formally referred to as the ship’s Master), a first or chief officer, whose duties include responsibility for cargo management and loading, three other watch officers, a four-man engineering team, deck hands, a cook and a steward. Ships no longer need a communications specialist; contacting port authorities or home office is as simple in many cases as picking up a telephone or sending an email. Vessels coming off slipways today are increasingly automated, so even these small crews are shrinking.
Ship’s crews have a long history of labour action and unionization, and unions represent crews in some major shipping lines based in prosperous Western countries. (http://depts.washington.edu/dock/maritime_intro.shtml) However, it is very easy for ship owners to register their fleets in countries with weak or absent labour laws, and modern automated vessels require smaller crews, limiting the power of numbers that workers in other industries can leverage. In addition, while a sailor still often spends months at sea, relatively cheap communication helps mitigate the stresses of separation from family and home communities. With no doubt many exceptions, living and working conditions on most modern vessels are now rarely sufficiently different from those at home to arouse unrest.