Villanelle: Terminal 420

When I visited the Port of Antwerp in October 2014 with the ETF Women’s Committee, we were due to go to a particular terminal – but it was closed, after a seafarer was killed while a ship was being loaded the previous day. The port is staffed only by registered dockers, under rules similar to the UK’s National Dock Labour Scheme, abolished by the Tories in the 1980s. The European Commission is attempting to scrap rules like this in Europe’s ports, which trade unions justifiably fear would lead to worse safety standards and more deaths. This poem is in the form of a Villanelle.

Terminal 420 is closed today
An accident happened, a sailor is dead
They have to take the body away

There’s cordon and hazard tape – please go away
Don’t come any nearer, there’s danger ahead
Terminal 420 is closed today

The load piled up and the pile then gave way
The process was safe, so the paperwork said
And now they’re taking the body away

They’re ticking their clipboards to work out who’ll pay
They’ll hold an inquiry and put it to bed
Terminal 420 is closed today

Just three deaths a year, now that figure’s OK
For so busy a port: that is what the man said
After they’d taken the body away

The standard will slip if the rule doesn’t stay
The Register goes, casual working instead
Terminal 420 is closed today
And soon they’ll be taking more bodies away

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