In 1947, during the Greek Civil War, I personally encountered a maritime crisis. As it was in those turbulent years of my early childhood, I only remember it thanks to the frequent stories told by my mother, over meals, or by the fireplace during cold winter nights. Family narratives were ever present in my family, often during extended family gatherings celebrating our individual namedays. Everybody had a story to tell, whether teasing, praising or just recalling past happenings. That was my first ‘school’…not unlike a boy in ancient Greece listening to the narration of scenes from the Odyssey!
Back to 1947. My father was a Gendarmerie-Police officer serving in a city of Macedonia, fighting daily, and was about to be transferred to Kymi, a city in Evia, his native island. Preparing for that, my mother packed and with me and my slightly older adopted sister travelled to Salonica, Greece’s 2nd city, to catch a boat to Athens, some 500 kms to the South. We arrive at the port, go to the boat where we are told it is full and we have to wait for the next one! My mother, a very dynamic, determined woman, refuses to accept this situation and immediately goes to the office of the General in command of all Gendarmerie forces for Macedonia. She obviously won her argument as the General immediately calls the ship captain and tells him to let us board. And so, we did, and soon we arrive in Piraeus, the Athens port.
The next scheduled ship was Heimara, the one we would have boarded if my mother had accepted “fate”. On its way to Piraeus, it sank between our island Evia and the mainland, as it either hit a mine left since the war, or some rocks. Of the 612 passengers, 385 perished. Everytime a wreck like this is reported with a ship in the Philippines, or Indonesia, or anywhere in the Pacific, it triggers this distant memory for me. And for the last few years this incident keeps haunting me, as I read the news and see the photos of refugees meeting a similar fate as they sail on small craft across the Mediterranean, trying to escape to Europe. Foe me, the 1947 B&W photo below shares the same elements.
Why Crisis Communication here? Well, my mother’s negotiation for our passage was in the frame of a crisis-the ongoing Civil War, in the chain of events and again, in my mind it connected to a seafaring case I read about yesterday.
A British seafarer was stuck for months on a passenger ship in the Pacific due to the Covid situation. In her own words: “As I am sure is the case for so many other seafarers right now, I am so desperate to get home. My parents and grandmother are vulnerable and I cannot think about anything else”. … she emailed a plea for help to IMO. The seafarer added that her mental health was seriously affected, and she feared the situation would also impact her ability to perform her duties as a bridge officer. One of many fascinating stories I read on the IMO site and I recommend browsing it. (https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Support-for-seafarers-during-COVID-19.aspx)