The Ship and the Ship

Video lecture with materials from CAMP's ongoing Wharfage project, involving state records, seafarers and "free trade" between parts of the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and Africa.

by Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran
"Hydrarchy: Power and Resistance at Sea"
UCL, London,
Saturday, September 18, 2010,
10 am to 5 pm.
organised by Gasworks

Unlike the explorer whose frontier is "where no one else has gone", the wooden-ship-captain who says he goes "where no one else goes" also whispers, "anymore", hinting that things change with time. In this story, Iraq was a destination fifteen years ago, as Somalia is today. Such horizons for "free trade" are produced by certain groups doing, openly, what others have deemed temporarily atleast, unprofitable. This takes skill and a capacity, a "power and resistance at sea".

At the same time, the orientation of ships and traders towards certain destinations has its "price". How to deal with unexpected intimacies? Remember, Sara Ahmed wrote,  that the words contingency and contact have the same root (Latin: contigere = to touch). Goats crowd the insides of boats, charcoal catches fire. Ethiopian discotheques, sinkings off Oman, and boardings by the US navy are recorded on Gujarati sailors' cellphones. Even if the goods are all Chinese, one state "feels" another.

So there is one ship here, which could be described as brutal, bottom-feeding, capitalism as usual. And then there is another one, which has a range of peculiar and persistent properties. It is: made of Malaysian timber, brought home in the monsoons, classified as a "sailing vessel",  a vigorous offspring of the traditional arab "dhow" and gujarati "vahan", fed on cheap diesel from Iran and break-bulk cargo re-exported from the Emirates.  These two ships tell us about the balance of forces between nation-states, tax-regimes, labour-pools and ecosystems, for ex. in the diagram below... a matrix that is nevertheless perturbed, excited, by each passing ship.

 "Free ports" run by                         a              "Liberalisation via Revolutionary Guard",
 ruling families  since                    n              cheap  diesel
 atleast the 1800's          
            c      s    
                                               s          t                             
                  "    p                           e       i           
                             i                 k        r       o 
                                  r       r                 v        n                    
                                     a                          i          s
                               m      c                           c      
                                         y                            e           
"Semi-states "                       "                            s       
where most daily goods                                      
  Seafaring "minority community", 
come by sea                                                             and ship-builders since antiquity

Gallery: The Ship and the Ship

At first, a project on the creek in Sharjah, from where a large number of ships leave for Somali ports.

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