Documentary exposes plight of seafarers

Community News & Features May 1, 2004 at 10:17 am

TORONTO–Turbulent Waters takes us into the murky world of international shipping to meet the seafarers who toil at the heart of global trade.

Established ship owners, including the family of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, register vessels under flags of convenience purchased from Panama, Bahamas or Liberia to escape fair tax, wage and safety regulations. They hire seafarers for cheap in countries like the Philippines, China, or Ukraine.
“In essence seafarers are the heart of today’s globalization; they transport 90% of global produce,” says co-director Michelle Smith, “yet they often live like 19th century galley slaves.”

Turbulent Waters plays out like an international thriller, revealing a strangely cosmopolitan world. Ukrainian sailors on board a Cyprus flagged vessel arrive in South Africa to load up on coal. They have not been paid in five months and risk their jobs to fight for their due wages. In Brest, France, Filipino chief cook John de Guzman leads a strike on a German vessel, risking the blacklist to denounce his racist captain. In Vancouver, Canada, three Maldivian seafarers call the local union inspector, Myles Parsons, for help after being held on board for 18 months.

Five years in the making, filmed at sea and in ports of call on four continents, Turbulent Waters sheds light on the harsh reality of the new economic order while giving a voice to the millions of seafarers who work deep in the holds of today’s cargo ships.

Turbulent Waters is directed and written by Malcolm Guy and Michelle Smith and co-produced with the National Film Board of Canada. It had its world premiere at Hot Docs on April 29th, at the Royal Cinema, 608 College St.

Productions Multi-Monde has been producing documentaries and fiction films since 1987. Awards include the Canadian Association of Journalists award for best investigative documentary (Modern Heroes Modern Slaves 1997), and the Association of Québec Cinema Critics’ award for best documentary (Pressure Point 1999).

Visit the Turbulent Waters Website:
For more information, contact: Malcolm Guy or Michelle Smith, Productions Multi-Monde at (514) 842-4047; e-mail: or