________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 8 . . . . December 9, 2005


Turbulent Waters.

Malcolm Guy & Michelle Smith (Directors & Writers). Malcolm Guy (Multi-Monde Producer). Germaine Wong (NFB Producer). Sally Bochner (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2004.
75 min., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 083.

Subject Headings:
Merchant mariners.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

** /4

Years ago, while on a crossing from North Sydney to St. John's, a bout of sea-sickness forced me to accept the fact that life on the open sea was not going to be my destiny. After viewing Turbulent Waters, I think I made the right call regarding my sea-going future.

     This is a very disturbing film which displays the harsh life aboard ocean vessels and the harsher treatment meted out by the owners of these ships.

     Turbulent Waters follows a number of International Transport Federation (ITF) supervisors as they attempt to address calls for help in South Africa, France and Vancouver. The inspectors have the obligation to look into complaints made by seafarers and see if the ships are being run according to regulations. This is no small job when one considers that there are as many as a million seafarers employed on ships throughout the world. The ITF has been called in on 6,000 calls regarding a variety of abuses.

     Over half of the world's shipping fleet is registered under what is termed Flags of Convenience. In this way, ship owners are bound only by the safety laws of the country of registry and avoid paying taxes to the home country. Canada Steamship Lines, for example, is registered in Barbados. The crews are rarely from the ship's country of origin. Japanese ships could have a Chinese crew. Chinese ships can be registered in Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas, or Cyprus for example. This is a common global practice.

     The film chronicles a strike aboard a ship in France and follows negotiations on ships in South Africa and Vancouver. Perhaps, in an attempt to show the slow pace of these negotiations and the manipulation on the part of management, the film is rather chaotic in its pace. Following the varied stories takes some work.

     Human rights abuses abound. In France, the Filipino cook is told to feed the Romanian crew the good food while he is to feed the Filipino crew the food that has spoiled. When the Filipino crew calls a strike, they make French television, and a resolution is eventually reached. However, once they return to the Philippines, the company blacklists them even though, as terms of settlement, it said it would not do so.

     In South Africa, the supervisor is called in because the seafarers have not been paid in months. When the company representative arrives with the money, the supervisor discovers that the company has had the seafarers sign a form stating that, once they are at sea, the company will take the money back. Fearful for their jobs and not being blacklisted, many of the seafarers agree to this. There are 10,000 blacklisted Filipino seafarers alone.

The film features a Filipina widow whose husband, she was told, committed suicide while aboard ship. She does not believe this. He called home often to talk to his young daughter and was optimistic about returning home. She feels that the company has lied to her; the company says that with suicide comes no compensation. Since there were no witnesses, she is left with nothing.

     There have been 2,500 lost lives at sea, and, of this number, 1,500 have been disaster or work related and hundreds die due to illness, homicide and suicide. The message is that the ship companies are "out to make money, turn a profit, no matter what." As no ship company representatives are given camera time, the film is clearly biased in favour of the seafarers.

     While the information in Turbulent Waters is shocking, the film would not be well received by a high school audience. Much of the film relies on subtitles, and there are long poignant scenes during which nothing happens. This reflects the frustration of the supervisors, but students would find this tedious. In its attempts to juxtapose the situations on the three ships, as well as provide background information, the film loses its flow and should probably have used tougher editing and a more present narrator. Perhaps, Turbulent Waters could be used in Career Studies, or International Law, but the information could better be gleaned by a teacher and placed in a lecture.

Recommended with reservations..

Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.


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