Link to Invisible Port article, mini audio documentary, and prototyping sonification by Helena Krobath
In the CargoTrails project, our intention was to bring about deeper knowledge of a consumption process by grounding our inquiry in a narrowly defined site: the vessels at the Logistec port facilities of Montreal during our observation period.
From my balcony at night, I see parts of the Port facility lit up, just visible between buildings. Even without seeing, I hear thumping of cargo loaders and trucks, a reminder that activity is present even if details remain obscured. I know that many products are manufactured abroad, and that undergirding everything from toothbrushes to laptops—as well as facilitating the trade of raw materials, fuel, explosives, and chemicals—is the transport industry.
Writings about place, particularly by Edward Casey (2001) and Anna Tsing (2015), prompted and shaped this work for me. They explore how any moment of situated activity is tangled with meaning, a multiplicitous interaction of layered worlds. When it comes to consumption processes, some of these worlds—notably, ecological and human cultures—are oppressed, repressed, or denied in government-industrial discourse and behaviour. Space is portrayed as either empty or full, rhythm and flow are assigned as industrial, logic as capitalist.
This account raises the challenge of animating and illuminating these denied worlds — for example, as Saskia Sassen (1996) does in her examination of local-global labour, and Stefan Helmreich (2011) does in his probing of waterways as material “theory machines”).
Looking deeply at one international transport hub, the Port of Montreal, led me necessarily to a broader global network and, paradoxically, to a new (and provocative) sense of alienation from local place-matters, as I learned to see shipping processes as more than “black boxes” but as inaccessible nexus.
My collaborator, Danica Evering, and I conducted field excursions to port-side areas and considered the nature of flow through the space by tracking a documentary trail of freighters present in Logistec’s port facility during the course of a day. Two questions prompted me: first, how is knowledge of shipping flow through the Port of Montreal presented and integrated into the city’s public identity? And second, how can knowledge gained through effort be shared in a way that transduces laborious readings of primary documents into something affectively provocative and politically nuanced?
Cutting a thick spatial-temporal slice of a trans-national network, I did expect to be frustrated. However, my research gave me an unexpectedly visceral sense of dismay, as I gained proximity to the writers of the very laws and regulations enabling a host of environmental and human exploitation and degradation through policies that shape public spaces and labour conditions. I was affected both by finding the paper trail, so to speak, of how all parties absolve each other of liability and by the strange combination of content and diction that implied a denial of its own articulations.
With legislation and regulation, the voice felt constructed to be non-personal, purely official. Similarly, with documents of appointed corporate authorities, diction was neutral and friendly, like an AI programmed to show interest in your well-being but not internalize your personhood. When it came to maritime law, the language felt deliberately opaque and double-layered with specialist terms. I read about mandatory age minimums–16, 18–for various types of labour, and mandatory doctors’ inspections that weren’t, really. There were enormous loopholes at the captain’s discretion. I learned about ship arrest and the horror of borders at sea, where a seizure of a ship can mean the workers locked on board for weeks, a risk to border control and held hostage along with the cargo. The political entities that provide the racialized bodies and labour/ownership laws to allow this are products of colonialism. But finding the trail of documents that engineered the current shipping structure, I couldn’t stop dwelling on how these words were written by lawyers, legislators, and corporate board members who are humans–people–representing corporate entities that exist as prosthesis for other people to use in exploitation/domination.
My goal in the project became to make the implications of these obfuscated words clear and resonant through creation of postcards.
Link by link, researching the container ships in the Port of Montreal led me to the labour laws of Antigua and the Republic of Marshall Islands; Canadian senate debate transcripts questioning the legality of enforcing existing environmental protections under international trade agreements; explanations of German corporate tax structures, which allowed multiple levels of investment and minimal liability; vessel tracking systems and cargo container management; Canadian and international government bills and the purely performative nature of certain domestic federal environmental measures; and shipping industry promotion by global infrastructure facilitators, ports developers, and maritime lawyers.
Trying to get closer to the port, my collaborator Danica Evering and I found a range of decommissioned industrial structures and people. Around a broken fence behind an abandoned warehouse we encountered a young family out exploring, a photographer taking pictures, a man shovelling landfill into buckets to load into his van, homeless people squatting, and layered tagging on the sides of the warehouses.
These spaces, from a public management point of view, function as what Foucault characterized as dystopic heterotopias, which hide social discomforts by being strictly guarded, visually obstructed, spatially separate from public space and consciousness. Yet they are populated by residents of the periphery, local dock workers, and international crews of vessels. Creating tangible entities for the ships, in the form of postcards, felt satisfying and strangely urgent—as if I needed other people to know these ships were not only “black boxes” drifting up the river, but highly local entities handled by certain people, with certain financial ends.
In this short reflection, there is time to say that refining these discoveries to short postcard-length pieces was challenging. Dwelling with the material—sizing photos of cargo ships, looking for measurements, refining the text, considering layout and paper choices—and spending long sessions in the “research rabbit hole” brought global shipping systems into my psyche and established a lasting interest. My greatest frustration as a research-creator has been the limitations to my budget (three sets of cards cost about $40) which prohibits me from producing and sharing them widely. However, we can circulate these and see how far they go. A slide-show can be more easily shared online (though I find the internet often suggests further intangibility). In any case—and perhaps this will become more important in the future—I have also become a “vessel” for this awareness and will be able to share it along my trajectory.
Works Cited and Documentary Resources
ADOMS (Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and MerchantShipping). (2016). “Registration Services.” Accessed: http://abregistry.ag/vessel-registration/
Antigua and Barbuda (2012). “The Merchant Shipping (Maritime LabourConvention, 2006) Regulations 2012.”
Casey, E. (2001). “Between Geography and Philosophy: What Does It Mean to Be in the Place-World?” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91(4).
Chapelski, S. & Stainer, A. (2015). “Ship Arrests in Canada.” In Ship Arrests in Practice 10th Edition (legal anthology of 86 jurisdictions). Online:Shiparrested.com
Duhaime, L. (2009).”Maritime Liens: A Primer.” Duhaime.org Legal Resources: Maritime Law (web). Accessed online: http://www.duhaime.org/LegalResources/MaritimeLaw/LawArticle-430/Maritime-Liens–A-Primer.aspx
Fednave. (2016). “Federal Tiber.” (profile). Accessed: http://www.fednav.com/en/fleet/federal-tiber
F.K. Warren & McLean Kennedy. “About.” (web). Accessed: http://www.fkwarren.ca/about.html
Gibraltar Port Authority. (2015). “Port Handbook: 2015-2017.”
Gibraltar Port Authority. (2016). “Ship Arrests.” Accessed: http://www.gibraltarport.com/ship-arrests
Gibraltar Port Authority. (2016). “Seafarers Welfare.” Accessed: http://www.gibraltarport.com/seafarers-welfare
Helmreich, S. (2011). “Nature/Culture/Seawater.” American Anthropologist 1 (1).
Hernandez, C. (2015). “Ship Arrests in Gibraltar.” In Ship Arrests in Practice 10th Edition (legal anthology of 86 jurisdictions). Online: Shiparrested.com
House of Commons, Canada. “BILL C-34” An Act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.”
Hudson Shipping Lines. “Vessel Info: Supramax.” (No Date). Accessed Online: http://hudsonshipping.com/?q=node/95
International Registries, Inc. (2016). “Why Marshall Islands?” International Registries, Inc. “Information Centre.” Accessed online: https://www.register-iri.com/index.cfm?action=corporate
Johansen, D. (2001). “BILL S-2: MARINE LIABILITY ACT.” (proposed). Accessed: Parliament of Canada.
“Jork: Vessel Info.” (2016). DNV-GL Exchange. Accessed: https://exchange.dnv.com/Exchange/Main.aspx?EXTool=Vessel&VesselID=G140347
“McLean Kennedy Inc.” (2016). Zoom info company profile. (Accessed viaLexisNexis) “Logistec Corporation.” (2016). LexisNexis Company profile. (Accessed via LexisNexis).
Moiera, W. “Arrest of Ships in Canada: Past, Present, and Future.” Daley, Black & Moreira (legal report). “Official Guide to Ship and Yacht Registries.”
Parliament of Canada. (2005). Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Issue 7.
Parliament of Canada (2001). Canada Shipping Act.
Port of Montreal (2016). “At Sea: Container Routes.” Accessed: http://www.port-montreal.com/en/at-sea-august2012.html
Port of Montreal (2016). “Ship Arrivals and Departures.” Accessed: http://www.port-montreal.com//pmgeo/navires.do?action=gethtml&lang=en
Reederei Heinz Corleis KG. (2016). Company Profile. Accessed via LexisNexis.
Reederei R. Fischer Verwaltungsgesellschaft mbH. (2016). Company Profile. Accessed via NexisLexis.
Republic of the Marshall Islands: Office of the Maritime Administrator. “Maritime Labour Convention, 2006: Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance – Part I.”
Republic of the Marshal Islands, Office of the Maritime Administrator. (2006). “Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 Inspection and Certificate Program.”
Republic of the Marshal Islands, Office of the Maritime Administrator. (2013). “Guidance on Medical Exams and Certificates for Seafarers.”
Republic of the Marshal Islands, Office of the Maritime Administrator. (2013). “Accommodations, Recreational Facilities, Food, Catering and Water.”
Republic of the Marshal Islands, Office of the Maritime Administrator. (2012). “Minimum Hours of Rest.”
Republic of the Marshal Islands, Office of the Maritime Administrator. (2013).“Articles of Agreement between the Master and Seafarers in the Merchant Service of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Shipping Articles).”
Sassen, Saskia. (1996). “Whose City Is It? Globalization and the Formation of New Claims.” Public Culture 8(2). pp 205-223.
Scheepvaartonderneming “Jork.” C.V. (2016). Company Profile. Accessed via LexisNexis
SRI (Seafarers Rights International). (2013). “Maritime Lien for Seafarers’ Wages in Canada.” Seafarer
Subject Guide. Accessed Online: http://seafarersrights.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CANADA.SUBJECTGUIDE.MARITIMELIENSFORSEAFARERSWAGES_2013_ENG.pdf
St. Lawrence Seaway Management Company. “Joint practices and procedures respecting the transit of ships on the St. Lawrence Seaway.” (2016). Accessed: http://www.greatlakes-seaway.com/seaway_handbook/seaway-handbook-en/practices_and_procedures.pdf
Supreme Court of Canada. (1972). “Todd Shipyards Corp. v. Altema Compania Maritima S.A.,  S.C.R. 1248
The Hon. W. David Angus, Q.C., Ad.E., Chairman. Taxtix Web Profile. http://www.tactix.ca/Tactix-DavidAngus.html (updated 2014).
“The Port of Montreal.” (2016). World Port Source. Accessed: http://www.worldportsource.com/ports/commerce/CAN_Port_of_Montreal_133.php
Toney, R. (No date). “Arrest of Vessels: Practical Considerations.” National Liquidators (industry report).
Tsing, A. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Transport Canada. Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. (1992)
Transport Canada. “Dangerous Goods Newsletter.” Volume 21, Number 2. Accessed: http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2012/tc/T12-10-21-2-eng.pdf