ITF Says Flag States Must Instruct Ships to Divert from Red Sea for Safety

Crewmembers of the Tutor were airlifted from their disabled ship by French and American forces (FFEAU.ALINDIEN of X)

Published Jun 25, 2024 1:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

Marking the Day of the Seafarer, the International Transport Workers’ Federation speaking on behalf of seafarers’ unions globally is urging the international community to reflect on the invaluable contribution of seafarers to the global economy. In the face of the latest escalation from the Houthis attacking ships in the Red Sea region, the ITF is saying that flag states “which are responsible for assuring a safe working environment for seafarers on their vessels, must instruct companies to divert their ships.”

The unions have repeatedly condemned the attacks and called for action. Now in a strongly worded statement, they are demanding immediate action to ensure the safety of seafarers in the Red Sea. They contend the actions, to date, have been lacking and could have prevented the unnecessary deaths of seafarers.

“While we appreciate expressions of solidarity and condemnation, words are not enough. The ITF demands urgent, concrete action to guarantee the safety and security of seafarers,” they write.

“Seafarers are not commodities but the backbone of the global supply chain. Their lives should not be risked for profit, nor should they have to perform their duties under the constant threat of violence or harm.”

The ITF reminds that four seafarers have lost their lives since the attacks started late in 2023. Three seafarers were killed in March when the True Confidence was attacked and fires began on the vessel. The remaining crew was forced to abandon ship. This month, the Houthis attacked the Tutor, and one seafarer was lost before the crew was forced to also abandon that vessel. Last weekend, there were reports that another bulker had also been abandoned marking the fourth vessel where the crews had to leave their ships after being attacked. Two ships are known to have sunk due to the attacks.

The official accounts cite one crewmember on the bulker Verbena that was severely injured and required a medical airlift by the military forces and a life-saving operation. There is no official tally, but there have been reports of lesser injuries to crewmembers in the attacks, which the Houthis assert now number over 150 vessels targeted.

On the Day of the Seafarer, the ITF is also calling for the safe return of the crews from the car carrier Galaxy Leader, which has been detained in Yemen since November 2023. The shipping company recently highlighted that the crew is not part of the conflict and should be released. The ITF also reminds that the MSC Aries is being held in Iran.

The unions are saying governments must do more while shipping companies must also demonstrate their commitment to their seafarers by diverting from the region. While saying flag states must instruct ships to divert, they said “flags of convenience” must not rely solely on the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union navies for protection.

After the attack on the Tutor, the Philippines said it would be exploring steps to further enhance the safety of seafarers. The Philippines which is a large source of crewmembers, earlier in the year ruled that its citizens could not work on cruise or passenger ships sailing in the Red Sea region. Officials said that was due to the number of crew on those ships and that they were exploring similar restrictions for their citizens after the recent Houthi escalation.