Unions Call on Port States to Protect Seafarers by Detaining Ships

unions call on port states to aid seafarers to protect their rights
(image courtesy of Nautilus Federation)

By The Maritime Executive 09-24-2020 06:25:02

Adding its voice to the chorus of calls for action to address the challenges of crew change on this World Maritime Day, a federation of maritime unions called on the world’s port states to take a more active role in support of seafarers.

The Nautilus Federation of 22 maritime unions issued a statement highlighting the key issues that the maritime world has been talking about, saying that seafarers are being denied their human rights during the pandemic with as many as 300,000 stuck at sea beyond the agreed 11-month maximum service.

Citing the failure of governments, industry, and flag states to name seafarers as keyworkers and get them off ships and home to loved ones, the federation echoed the sentiment of many in the maritime industry saying that these failures have led to a humanitarian crisis that can no longer be tolerated.

“This is a wholly predicted – yet avoidable – humanitarian crisis, and we call for action against governments who deny seafarers their fundamental rights,” said Nautilus Federation director Mark Dickinson.

The group called for an international solution to the address the challenges of getting seafarers on and off both the world’s seas and rivers without delay. “Should that international solution cause port states to detain growing numbers of vessels until seafarers are repatriated, the industry and governments will need to prepare for the disruption this would cause to global supply chains," the group added.

The unions highlighted what they said is the inability for some of the world's largest flags to enforce the fundamental rights of seafarers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The federation said that while many Flags of Convenience (FOCs) quickly ratified the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, it said the ease and speed by which many flag states subsequently ignored the rights of seafarers is a stain on the entire maritime industry.

“We call on all port states to assist the flag states by enforcing the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention and detain ships that do not comply,” said the federation in its statement. “Similar actions must also be taken for those people working on board vessels sailing on inland waterways, many of whom are facing the same denial of human rights.”

A number of flag states have stepped up to meet the challenge. For example, Panama, the world's largest flag state after coming in for criticism has taken steps to protect seafarers working aboard ships flying the Panama flag. Singapore today announced steps related to seafarer's contracts and Australia in its role as a flag state said it will not accept extensions of service without beyond 14 months without leave.

Port states have also already shown their strong support of seafarers. For example, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has been aggressive in its inspection and support of seafarers ensuring that they are being treated fairly by the shipowners. Earlier this month, AMSA reported that it had detained and then banned a bulk carrier for underpaying its crew. It was the fourth such instance in recent months where AMSA detained and then banned ships arriving in Australia's waters for either not properly paying their crew or having other welfare violations including overextending labor contracts.

Saying that the major flag states have the ability to resolve the crew change crisis by refusing to allow seafarers on their ships to be denied their fundamental human rights, the unions hoped that port states will join the initiatives to ensure quick action to address the problems of completing crew changes.