XXI Century: the Mediterranean area is the frontier between the North and the South of the world, the bastions around Fortress Europe. A new Iron Curtain that only contains people from one side, whilst goods travel freely. Goods travel without restrictions in colourful iron boxes, piled over floating iron cities, marked with a code that tells their past and their destiny and works as a permission of free circulation. Over seventy percent of world's goods are transported by containers. Thanks to a progressive standardisation in measures and procedures people are not needed anymore to manage them.
XX Century: the Mediterranean comes out its traditional agrarian economy and heavy industry booms thanks to its delicate cushioning position between East and West. The Marshal Plan sparkles an industrial revolution on the sea shores. Iron factories, boatyards, petrochemical compounds are a promise of wealth for generations. However this production model is unable to renovate itself and compete in a globalised scenario and starts to abandon the land, leaving environmental damages and social inequality.
The fact is, that civilization requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
OSCAR WILDE, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
In the Korean owned TTI Terminal of the Algeciras port a software recognises the code on the container, reads its origin, content and destination and sends orders to the huge cranes. Massive bulks are moving, but the deck is deserted. In the control tower a solitary employee surrounded by monitors is there just in case of software inaccuracy.
We are importing the labor standards of China, the country with the worst capitalistic system. The world is going in the opposite direction compared to the way I was used to look at it.
Yorgos Nukutidis, President of the Dockers Union Of Piraeus Port
In the port of Athens, once the launch pad for Greek supremacy, the dockers of the glorious Piraeus Port Authority are not competitive anymore and remain without task. Their colleagues of the Pier 2, owned by the Chinese state company Cosco, are working on a temporary basis, with no benefits, earning around half their salary. “The world is not anymore as I used to see it”, says the president of the Piraeus Dockers Union.
My letter is to you, the one who runs the factory. Taranto is surrounded by pollution, the rivers and the sea have been poisoned,
there aren't many trees left in the wood and fishes are dying all the time. I request you to clean the whole city and to throw out all the criminals
that soil and destroy the nature. Taranto is already a sewer, even if cleaning will be very strenuous, do it anyway!
Patrik, primary school student in Taranto
Taranto continues to be the most contaminated city in Europe. Recently, thanks to the new regional anti//dioxin law, there have been improvements on the amount of emissions released in the air by the iron factory ILVA. However the sea is also at risk after discovering that the famed mussels of Mar Piccolo, exported all across the world, were filled with dioxin. According to analyses of mussels conducted by the local sanitary institution of Taranto, the limit allowed by the regional law was not exceeded. However, this law imposes slack limits for products of the sea, being more restrictive with meat, milk or cheese. Here lies the contradiction: 100 grams of mussels that conform to the regulations contain more picograms of dioxin and PCB than 100 grams of lamb “outside the law”. The situation remains critical: an area covering twenty kilometres starting from the industrial zone is prohibited to graze in; animal breeding is diminishing.
CARTAGENA DE MURCIA
I don’t know when I fell in love with the elegant beauty and power of Tuna. I was completely enraptured by this fish, I wanted to know more about them. Feeding time is one of the happiest moments for me. I always pay attention to their behavior: are they eating vigorously? How many of them come to eat? Are they swimming normally? Feeding is a form of communication between me and them. When we transport the juveniles to the sea cages I'm always really thrilled. I am very stressed knowing that they are also very stressed. They are jammed into a small tank and suddenly, for the very first time, they are swimming in the great sea.
Manabu Seoka, Japanese biologist
In the floating cages of the Bay of El Gorguel, Cartagena, Spain, lie the first Atlantic bluefin tuna – currently known as red tuna - born and bred in captivity. The stock of this species, highly prized as sushi or sashimi, has reached alarming levels because of overfishing. Breeding the red tuna has been a dream for many years and may be a sustainable option to supply the world without exhausting the fishing grounds. In 2008 the project SELFDOTT began, involving the Spanish Institute for Oceanography (IEO), the University of Cartagena and the Ricardo Fuentes group. For the past four years, researchers have been collecting the eggs that the tuna lay during the months of June and July. During the first two years, the program paid off: the microscopic larvae grew, but when the fry were released into the tank most of them died by crashing into the walls. In July 2010, the Japanese Manabu Seoka, an expert on larval rearing of Pacific bluefin tuna, joined the team and solved the problem, giving a boost to the project.
Every year, approximately sixty million people reach the Mediterranean shores attracted by the sun, sea and dolce far niente. The Mediterranean lifestyle seduces the visitor as a game, not as a reality. For the first time in its history the Mediterranean attracts its invaders without assimilating them and risks to be culturally assimilated and converted into a object.
Fernand Braudel, La Mediterran-e, les hommes et l’heritage
If the industrial model of development has been overcome by the times, it seems that the only way of living for Mediterranean folks is to become a tourist attraction. The inhabitants of la Barceloneta fight against real estate speculation that is turning their traditional fishermen's neighbourhood into a fancy touristic area.
Ah! What the will of man can achieve is limitless! He planted his tent one day in the bare sand and to the whole world he said: ‘Trust me. There’s not a blade of grass here, the sun blazes down, the desert breaks everything down, thirst is everywhere. Here, where everything dies I shall sow life. On this wasteland there will be fields, gardens, palaces and towns. And ships from every nation will pass along these banks’.
Empress Eugenie, during her voyage to Suez in 1869
The port container traffic, that measures the flow of containers from land to sea and vice versa, has been of 572.207.570 TEUs (standard/size container) in the year 2011. About 7.5 percent of world sea trade is carried via the Suez canal, one of the doors of the Mediterranean Sea. In 2012 the revenue from the canal, thanks to a tariff of 5 dollars on every ton passing through, totalled USD 5.2 billion. Average cost per ship is roughly USD250,000.00. It is a cash flow that didn't suffer the repercussions of the global economic crisis, due to the increase of China's exports. Roughly 90 percent of dry, non/bulk manufactured goods are shipped in cargo containers, including machine parts, electronics, paper, tires, footwear, scrap metal, apparel, auto parts, toys, food, beverages, chemicals, textiles, furniture, and appliances.
PORTO TORRES / ASINARA ISLAND
Here we are, after 35 years of working: with no way out, facing a wall. If I think that in the 70’s the chemical plant where we were working was going to be the engine of the local economy... We were all young, enthusiastic and eager to lift this island, willing to give our contribution to fulfill the government's promises. Today those young men are 56 years old and without a penny in their pockets.
Salvatore, worker laid-off by the ENI factory of Porto Torres
In 2011, the workers laid/off by the chemical industry ENI of Porto Torres, Sardinia, self/exiled to the deserted Asinara Island, starting the first labour protest entirely on the web. They claimed their jobs back, as well as focusing attention to the island, a natural reserve in a state of wilderness, as a possible source of employment in tourism.
Why are we still on board? Because we can’t leave without our payment, and nobody is taking care of us. So many salaries have not been paid for such a long time. We contacted the shipowner and said: we want our payment first, and then we want to go home. But there was no answer at first. This is not life. Every morning cruise liners come in and every night they go out of the port, passengers wave their hands to us. For us it ́s like looking at a dream, but unfortunately it’s just somebody else’s life.....
Ruslan, captain of the MV Silver 1, abandoned in Civitavecchia
Globalisation has come earlier on the seas than on land, and tougher. 84 percent of the million sea workers come from undeveloped countries and the use of flag of convenience of countries like Liberia and Panama avoid the application of labour regulations. With the world economic crisis causing the bankruptcy of many naval companies, there has been a rise of cases of abandoned seamen all over the Mediterranean Sea. The International Transport Federation defines the crew as abandoned when they do not receive a salary for over 3 months and the shipowner has disappeared and can no longer be found. The seamen remain on board for months, sometimes years, waiting for the long process that leads to the ship's sale; hoping that the revenue will pay their overdue salaries. The frustration of not being able to provide for their families at home leads to depression and, in some cases, suicide.
NEMRUT BAY / GIGLIO ISLAND
I will never forget the first time I conducted my vessel into Nemrut Bay to be demolished. From the shore they were yelling at the radio: full power captain! So I pushed the engines to the limit heading toward the beach. I was excited, I felt like God. When the vessel touched the sea bottom everything started to shake, making a monstrous noise. The vessel was crying for its imminent death. At that moment I realized that I had loved that boat as a woman.
Jamal, Lebanese captain