Concern for the human rights of seafarers is growing in focus across the maritime industry, with this week’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC2017) providing one example of action taken this week around the world.
The conference saw a continuation of OTC’s partnership with United Against Human Trafficking with the aim of increasing awareness of human trafficking amongst attendees and exhibitors. United Against Human Trafficking leads a coalition of Houston-area non-profits, faith-based organizations, government agencies and others whose mission is to prevent and confront human trafficking. The coalition combats human trafficking by educating the public, training professionals and empowering the community to take action.
Human trafficking is the process through which people are placed or maintained in an exploitative situation for economic gain. The human rights most relevant to trafficking are:
• The prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status
• The right to life
• The right to liberty and security
• The right not to be submitted to slavery, servitude, forced labor or bonded labor
• The right not to be subjected to torture and/or cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment
• The right to be free from gendered violence
• The right to freedom of association
• The right to freedom of movement
• The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
• The right to just and favorable conditions of work
• The right to an adequate standard of living
• The right to social security
• The right of children to special protection
Welfare in the Middle East
The Mission to Seafarers (MtS) in the UAE announced this week that it is refocusing its operations in the region to enhance its justice and welfare team and further combat human rights abuses against seafarers by unscrupulous manning agencies and shipowners.
In the last two years, the Dubai-based team has dealt with 298 vessels which had significant welfare issues involving more than 1,600 seafarers. The number of cases has steadily increased.
“In any downturn, it is the seafarers who suffer the most,” says the Revd Dr Paul Burt, MtS regional director for the Gulf & South Asia and senior chaplain in the UAE. “We receive around three new cases each week and know of several ships within our area whose crews are facing exceptionally hard circumstances, and for whom we are currently unable to offer support. By increasing our justice team, we will be able to help more seafarers in need – many of whom are often left without salary, food and water for months on end.”
The current justice team of three full-time chaplains will be enhanced with a fourth operating in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding area, plus a suitably qualified welfare worker who will particularly service the ports of Dubai, Sharjah, Sharjah Hamriyah, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah. Justice cases range in severity but almost all include an element of non-payment of wages and many involve total abandonment. This justice work is in addition to the 15,000-20,000 seafarers who are visited on their ships each year through routine pastoral visits.
Abandoned for 31 months
In 2013, MtS learned of two Filipino seafarers who were abandoned on an anti-piracy vessel. The vessel was caught up in a dispute about payment for engineering work carried out on it. The men had been left to fend for themselves. Most of the time they had no food or water.
MtS welfare officers supported them with regular deliveries of essential supplies and counselling. They also worked as their advocates, negotiating with all the disputing parties on their behalf. Eventually MtS was able to broker a deal where the men were allowed to go home in 2016 with a promise that when the vessel was sold they would get their salary. Their virtual imprisonment on that vessel had lasted 31 months.
Because they were unable to work or even get off the vessel, their professional certificates had expired. The Mission to Seafarers paid for the men to retrain and renew their certificates. As soon as they completed their courses they were able to get work again and their families could start to function normally after three years of poverty and distress.
On Thursday, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) called for a moratorium on high seas transshipment by tuna long-line vessels in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea until companies implement fair labor standards throughout their supply chains to protect fishers and seafarers. In its announcement, the federation noted that transshipment at sea helps to enable illegal fishing, human trafficking, extreme labor abuses and debt bondage.
Greenpeace supports a moratorium on transshipment at sea for the tuna industry, and has campaigned on global canned tuna giant Thai Union to lead the way. Greenpeace Southeast Asia Oceans Campaign Manager Mark Dia said: “Transshipment allows unscrupulous operators to cut down on crew costs and, in the worst situations, enables slavery at sea. Transshipment means crews can be kept at sea for months or even years at a time without getting back to port, making it difficult – if not impossible – to report on, or to escape from, physical abuse, poor working conditions, violence and even murder on board fishing vessels.”
U.N. Global Compact
The issue of slavery in the seafood industry has been a focus for the U.K.-based charity Human Rights at Sea. The charity has also been instrumental in highlighting the plight of the 13 Indian crewmen currently abandoned on the MV Liberty Prrudencia off China, having been paid just one month’s wages in six months.
Human Rights at Sea recently published its formal submission to the U.N. Secretary General concerning the charity’s engagement in the U.N. Global Compact. The U.N. Global Compact aims to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to do business responsibly by aligning their strategies and operations with Ten Principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights;
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labor;
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility;
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
Human Rights at Sea released an infographic depicting its activities on Thursday.