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Seafarers Can Now Refuse to Work Ships Transiting the Red Sea Region

CENTCOM
Seafarers can refuse to work in the Red Sea High Risk Area or receive double pay while in the area (CENTCOM file photo)

Published Feb 16, 2024 2:23 PM by The Maritime Executive


With concerns continuing over the ongoing escalation in the Red Sea and danger to ships and their crews, the unions representing the majority of seafarers are making changes to the standard contract including adding the right for seafarers to refuse to sail in the region. While the pace of attacks coming from the Houthi in Yemen appears to have slowed in recent days, the International Bargaining Forum is nonetheless concerned about the threats to safety and the escalations since its previous meeting.

In the last two days, two ships have reported minor damage after being targeted with missiles. The UK Maritime Trade Organizations and Ambrey both reported earlier today that a tanker registered in Panama suffered minor damage after a missile explosion 72 nautical miles northwest of Mokha, Yemen in the Red Sea. Agence France-Presse is identifying the tanker as the Pollux, a 100,0000 dwt Greek-owned crude oil tanker which transited the Suez Canal bound on February 12 bound for India. A second vessel was reported by Ambrey to have changed course after seeing the explosion. Similarly, yesterday a Greek-owned bulker had minor damage also after it was targeted with a missile while sailing in the Gulf of Aden.

So far there have been no reports of serious crew injuries or deaths from the attacks despite several direct hits including the fire on a product tanker last month. The International Transport Workers’ Federation, the union federation representing seafarers, and the Joint Negotiating Group of unions and employer organizations, however, note that seafarers aboard the Galaxy Leader have been held hostage since November 19, 2023. The group “strongly condemns the actions,” calling for the release of the crew and to immediately cease further hostile activities.

Citing these dangers, the organizations agreed in a February 7 meeting, that starting in seven days they would add a condition for “seafarers’ right to refuse to sail” into the defined High Risk Area. They also agreed to expand the definition of the area from the Southern Red Sea to include larger areas in the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters.

“The decision to include seafarers’ right to refuse to sail was not a step taken lightly as this could negatively impact global trade, but the safety of the seafarers is paramount,” the groups wrote in a joint statement.

Under the terms, seafarers must be given seven days' notice before entering the High Risk Area. They can refuse to work in the area with the shipping company having the option of reassigning the seafarer to another ship at the same pay and position or providing reparation at the company’s expense along with compensation equal to two months basic wage.

Previously, the group had agreed in December to the implementation of the High Risk Area definition. Seafarers working in the area they agreed would receive a bonus while in the region equal to their wages and double compensation in the event of death or disability.

The groups also used today’s announcement to yet again urge the international community to take steps to ensure the safety of seafarers so that vessels can transit free from threat and aggression. They acknowledged that it will require a global solution while saying their primary concern is the safety of the seafarers.