Criminalization and Piracy are Damaging Seafarer Recruitment Warns InterManager

Shortages of skilled and qualified seafarers could have an immense impact on the global economy and are being exacerbated by the negative impact of crew criminalization and the escalating problem of global piracy, warns InterManager, the international trade association for the ship management industry whose members represent more than 200,000 seafarers.

"Legislative measures following an accident or incident have made the seafarer increasingly susceptible to criminalization, and a rising incidence of piracy has led to correspondingly high personal risks," Brian Martis, Chairman of the InterManager's Criminalization Committee told delegates at today's India Manning & Training Conference in Mumbai.

In addition, "A one-sided view of public interest coupled with political expediency has severely curtailed the human rights of the seafarer," he said. "These factors have had a direct, negative impact on crew retention and the natural replenishment of the work-force: potential recruits are hesitant to take up a career at sea. The current shortage of skilled and qualified seafarers - already a significant crisis in the maritime industry - is further exacerbated."

He continued: "Shipping being the prime mover of goods worldwide (90% of trade), is critical to international commerce and development. The seafarer is critical to shipping. There is already a crisis in marine manpower supply with shortages estimated to continue for some years to come. The legislations in recent years concerning pollution and the restrictions on personal freedom as a result of the 'War on Terror' have combined to make seafaring unattractive. Retention and fresh recruitment are directly affected. The eventual impact the global economy and the environment cannot be underestimated."

Mr Martis pointed out that recent studies by BIMCO have identified 14 cases of seafarers' detainment that took place during an 11 year period involving 12 coastal states. These cases involved lengthy detainments and "questionable" applications of law and resulted in no charges.

He cautioned: "The unfair treatment meted out to the officers concerned resonates very strongly with the seafaring community both locally and internationally. A sea-going career with such additional risks to personal freedom and/or safety dissuades young men and women who are about to decide their future careers. I know of several officers who have indicated they will discourage their children from taking up a career at sea."

InterManager has played an instrumental role in a number of high-profile cases of criminalization recently including the Hebei Spirit and the Cormorant.

Mr Martis informed conference delegates that recent cases have shown a marked tendency for seafarers to be:
. criminally prosecuted for maritime accidents beyond their control
. criminally prosecuted for maritime accidents where there has been some negligence, regardless of the fact that such negligence is not considered criminal in the maritime industry
. detained indefinitely within the country that is bringing charges against them
. held as "security" or "material witnesses" till the ship owner or P&I Club pays up
. held in custody without any access to legal assistance or without being formally convicted of a criminal offense
. denied shore leave for arbitrary reasons

Urging the shipping world to tackle the issue of unfair criminalization, Mr Martis proposed: "2010 is the Year of the Seafarer and what better way to pay homage than to contribute towards improving his working conditions and protecting his human rights?"