March 5, 2013

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We were quite shocked last’s week in regards to the events aboard the Carnival cruise ship – but not in the way you would imagine. Being sailors and ocean navigators, we are used to taking care of our surroundings. In fact we have a saying that goes like this: “The island is our Vaka and the Vaka is our island”. Meaning that if you don’t take care of your Vaka or boat, you are not taking care of your home, your land, your world. What happened on that particular cruise ship is a great mirror to what is happening in our society.

When you are on a vaka, sailing the oceans, one thing quickly becomes extremely clear. For sanity to exist, for people to enjoy their time and for sailing to go smoothly, it is extremely important that everybody respect each other’s privacy and acts with civility. People help each other and communication is gold. Without teamwork, attentiveness and consideration to others, life quickly becomes toxic and unproductive.

Last year we sailed over 140,000 nautical miles circumnavigating the world on Vakas that were only powered by solar energy. We lived and were one with the rhythm of our environment – the ocean. We respected it, appreciated it, and honored it – consequently respecting ourselves, appreciating ourselves and honoring ourselves, our homelands, and our ancestors. Of course, from time to time you have conflicts and issues that need to be addressed but these challenges are always welcomed and together we deal with them, growing stronger as a team, and as individuals.

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The way we sail, the way we travel, is an extension of the way we live. We only use renewable sources of energy. We fish only for what we need. We don’t use the ocean to dump our garbage, in fact we reuse and recycle as much as possible – producing a minimum of impact. We maximize the use of space. We read books, count the stars, scan the water for possible encounters and only reach out for technological devices when necessary. We eat together and embrace each other’s company.

So when we learned that in only the space of a few days hell had broken loose aboard a powerless cruise ship, we scratched our heads wondering how this could happen. But then again, it didn’t take long to understand why. As a reflection of our society, these cruises are a celebration of consumerism, totally disconnected from the environment. According to Oceana, the average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 7 tons of garbage and solid waste, about 30,000 gallons of human waste, 255,000 gallons of non-sewage gray water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, air pollutants equivalent to 12,000 automobiles, hundreds of thousands of gallons of ballast water, which contains diseases, bacteria and invasive species from foreign ports – every day! With more than 230 cruise ships operating world wide, you do the math.

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Passengers leave behind a city only to find themselves in another city – a floating one. Whenever they get off the boat, it is only to sit on a bus and experience other worlds, other cultures from the safety of their cushioned seat, behind reinforced glass, bathed in air-conditioning. Their evenings are spent watching television or attending one of the many entertaining shows prepared and packaged on board or at high end resorts. They eat in huge restaurants, served by an underpaid staff. They stay plugged in with their tablets, computers and constant access to the internet. Days are spent lounging, gambling, shopping or swimming in the chlorinated water.

This ethos of individuality and pleasure is not only unsustainable but has absolutely no resistance or resilience. It is like a castle of cards, a game of Jenga, barely holding together. The minute you take away one piece, the entire system collapses.

The media coverage was also extremely revealing. CNN made the event its top priority, and all the other television stations followed. Everybody cried for the poor passengers, yet nobody talked about the even-worse situation for the staff onboard the ship.

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After days without power a generator was airlifted ontoto the ship and many people took the opportunity to charge their phones

“For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck.  

If these cruises are a mirror of our society, what does it say about our system? Is it time to go back to our roots and reevaluate our values and what we stand for? Isn’t there a lesson to learn from the success of such endeavors like the Voyaging Societies and the quick failure of supposedly infallible behemoths? Here at Pacific Voyagers Foundation, we have made our choice – we will stand and promote a world where quality matters over quantity, where humanity is a communal celebration, where energy is never wasted and where food abounds because of the care we put into our environment. Who is up for a sail now?

The Pacific Voyagers Team, http://pacificvoyagers.org/

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By Daniel Fox, The Pacific Voyagers Foundation

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