Study: Seafarers Bear the Burden of Port Corruption

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Published Feb 25, 2020 9:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

According to a new report by researchers at Cardiff University, the old issue of developing-world seaport corruption has new twist. Now that most vessel operators are prohibiting bribery using ships' funds, seafarers often have to foot the bill for payoffs in certain notorious seaports themselves.

"Most major companies aren't allowing us to give any facilitation gifts [bribes]," said a third mate interviewed for the study. "Now we don't know where to account these things, and the demands can be really huge . . . What we do is we end up using the [ship's] welfare fund of the seafarers."

This activity puts mariners in a bind: If they are caught paying bribes, they could be fired, and if the ship is delayed because they did not bribe the right officials, they could be fired. 

"We have no power, to be honest. We feel like we just have to go with the flow . . . We feel uncertain about the laws," said a second mate. "It's very degrading, to be honest."

The mate recounted an instance in which a marine pilot had demanded a bribe from the ship in order to transit a channel, and the master simply paid it himself in order to avoid a delay and meet schedule. 

Some port officials may also demand access to the ship's provisions so that they may help themselves. This is a particular problem for seafarers, since the food they sail with is the only food that they have for the voyage.

"If you were on land and someone's taken your food . . . you run out to the store and you buy more food. But the fact is we're out at sea. If it's a three weeks' run and we don't have enough food, we have to start rationing . . . and the people who are suffering are the crewmembers," the second mate said.