Call for Action on Human Rights at Sea "Without Exception"

Human Rights Not a Tick-The-Box Exercise


Published Sep 21, 2016 9:21 PM by Human Rights at Sea

A week after the inaugural International Maritime Human Rights (IMHR) conference, held on September 14 at The Royal College of Surgeons in London, the positive repercussions of the event continue to reverberate.

The event, titled “Respect, Responsibility and Remedy in the Maritime Environment,” delivered something new to the emerging maritime human rights discussion. It was the first time that a human rights conference brought together stakeholders from across the entire maritime space and was initiated by David Hammond, the CEO and founder of the charity Human Rights at Sea.

Commerce and civil society came together to outline their respective work, concerns and aspirations in acknowledging and dealing with ongoing human rights abuses in the maritime environment.

The event was attended by delegates from as far afield as New Zealand, India, the U.S., Canada, Kenya and South Africa as well as from the IMO, U.K. Cabinet Office, SeaFish, Europeche, the NFFO, The Fishermen’s Mission, the Royal Navy, the United States Navy, NATO, the U.K. Chamber of Shipping, the RMT Union, numerous international Counsel, e-learning providers, academia and many media platforms, including the BBC.

Perspectives from the shipowner, the shipmanager, fisheries organisations, civil society NGOs dealing for migrant rescue, shipbreaking, business and human rights organisations, flag States, government, gender and diversity, anti-slavery and international investigative project leads made for a comprehensive and very busy nine-hour day. This included an evening networking reception which developed a number of new professional relationships and opportunities spanning across continents.

Examples of the diverse nature and wide-ranging experience of the speakers included:

George Tsavliris of Tsavliris Salvage said that “respecting human rights is not a tick-in-the-box exercise” and that is was the “right thing to do” while always “maintaining a code of ethics” within a company structure.

Captain Kuba Szymanski of InterManager stated that authorities should “stop criminalising us” in relation to the increasing trend to prosecute seafarers for their actions and noted that “99 percent of the shipping industry is not bad, it is excellent”. He also pressed the point that seafarers were human beings.

On behalf of Ment van der Zwan of the Dutch Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association and FISH-Platform, Cor Blonk of the Dutch Ship Owners Association for Pelagic Fisheries read a letter to the delegates where he stated that while there were 1.5 million seafarers there were 35 million active fishers. Most notably he commented that: “Fish and fish stocks are better protected than fishers” and that “most of the indispensable standards in relation to human rights are not in force.”

Peter Sweetnam, CEO of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) commented that for many migrants rescued at sea by NGOs it was “treating them, sometimes for the first time, as human beings.” This resonated with the hard-hitting opening film titled “The Dead Sea” partly funded by Human Rights at Sea, which details the abuse and torture of migrants passing through a Libyan detention centre based on factual testimony.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) in London, noted that “ship managers know where the abuses are occurring” and further stated that “broadly, the maritime industry is a laggard in terms of human rights.”

The concept of business and human rights in terms of competitive commercial advantage was explored by Margaret Wachenfeld of the Institute of Human Rights and Business (IHRB), where she noted that “discussion on business and human rights has been going on for at least 20 years” and that “respecting human rights is essentially doing no harm.”

Alexandra Wrage of TRACE International detailed issues of corruption in the maritime space and asserted that “human rights are violated when people are bribed and paid off.”

The impact of human rights provisions and safeguards in the U.K. fisheries industry was discussed in detail by Libby Woodhatch of SeaFish and where she commented that: “We need to change mind sets. [We] need to think about the people not the fish.”

Conrad Thorpe OBE, the CEO of Nairobi-based maritime security contractor Salama Fikira, held the delegates’ attention with his first-hand anecdotes from the front line of counter-piracy operations where his company has been responsible for the release of over 100 hostages. “I have seen Masters weep on the release of their seafarers,” Thorpe said. He also detailed cases where his unarmed security teams had stopped human rights violations on board and during handover to local authorities and had personally contributed towards immediate funds for rescued seafarers being put ashore.

The welfare session, chaired by Commodore Barry Bryant CVO RN, DG of Seafarers U.K., saw Cadet Sarah Stevens, Royal Fleet Auxiliary speaking along with Lieutenant Commander Chris Wood RN of the Royal Navy’s Compass organisation on matters of diversity and inclusivity. They observed that there was “a serious lack of positive female role models” at sea.

Professor Neil Greenberg of Kings College London and March on Stress provided dynamic insight into trauma risk management and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stated that in terms of on-board self-help, “the impact of [good] junior leadership on decreasing the effects of PTSD is huge.”

A comprehensive brief on the English law review of anti-slavery and trafficking was delivered by Parosha Chandran of 1 Pump Court chambers, alongside a detailed introduction by Wendy Betts of the International Bar Association of the new evidence gathering app ‘eyeWitness,” which has been championed in the maritime space by Human Rights at Sea.

Abuses in the global ship-breaking yards were incisively highlighted by Ingvild Jenssen from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. She quoted worrying statistics concerning deaths in yards, high rates of child labour and shipyards environmental impact in the inter-tidal zone and where she further challenged flag states’ actions. Ingvild was clear that “human rights violations are crimes.”

Norman Schmiedl of Columbia Ship Management reflected on the impacts on their crews, particularly in relation to the rescue of migrants noting that “those who are really rescuing do not have a voice – they are not recognised for their work.”

The new CEO of St. Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry, Debasis Mazumdar, said that in his new role he was changing and improving many aspects of his new flag administration. He noted that “human rights should be enjoyed by everyone” and that it was “the duty of the flag state to uphold human rights.” Mazumdar was formerly head of the U.K. Ship Register.

The event also saw the presentation of a new publication, ‘Managing Traumatic Stress’ by Professor Neil Greenberg of Kings College, produced in collaboration with Human Rights at Sea and published by The Nautical Institute. Human Rights at Sea also announced its forthcoming Marlins e-learning course: “Diversity and Inclusion at Sea” for seafarers.

The event was closed by David Hammond, CEO of Human Rights at Sea with a call to action that there should be “application of human rights throughout the maritime environment at all times without exception.”

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.