Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Container Freight Terminal and Ferry Dispute Leads to Hunger Strike

Union Tempers Simmer at 'Fantastical' Criminal Charges
Shipping News Feature

MOROCCO – According to the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) cases dating back to last year when protests at a container freight terminal and the country’s Comanav/Comarit ferry company laid up eleven ships leaving hundreds of crew stranded in French, Spanish and Moroccan ports without food or pay has led to a situation in which union leader Said Elhairech, detained by the authorities on charges described by the ITF as ‘fantastical’, is about to begin a hunger strike.

Said Elhairech was also involved in the protests last November when the Eurogate Tanger container Terminal in Tangier refused to recognise his ITF-affiliated Union des Syndicats UMT des Transports (UMT). The ITF maintains that the charges against the official are trumped up and posts regular progress reports on its Solidarity dedicated web page to support their representative. Said Elhairech has announced that he will begin a hunger strike next week in protest at his continuing detention on charges of sabotage and endangering national security.

Notifying the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) of his plans, Said stated that he is acting in protest at his arbitrary and unjustified detention, which he is certain is a purely political arrest aimed at preventing union work within the ports of Morocco. He added that the charges against him are unprecedented and worthless, and are based on a plausibility-stretching interpretation of a single two minute phone call he made which was intercepted by the authorities. Earlier this month ITF general secretary David Cockroft wrote to the Moroccan ambassador in London regarding the situation of Elhairech and one of his colleagues saying:

“These arrests are of particular concern given the gravity of the accusations both men* face, which we believe to include criminal conspiracy to threaten national security, and economic sabotage. From our knowledge of both men, and in particular of the valuable work that Said Elhairech has carried out in alleviating the distress of the seafarers left abandoned following the cessation of operations by Comarit-Comanav.

“We can be certain that an error of understanding has taken place. We understand that the arrests followed telephone interceptions in which normal trade union discussions have been misinterpreted as somehow threatening your nation’s national security. Commonsense suggests otherwise, and we trust that the examining magistrate will promptly reach this same conclusion and spare the men further detention, and their family’s further distress.”

In his latest statement the ITF general secretary hints at the frustration his members are feeling at the delay in resolving the case commenting:

“We had all hoped for a quick dismissal of the fanciful and unbelievable charges against Said – which recast the excellent work he did at our request to help abandoned Comarit-Comanav crews into a James Bond style plot against the state. Regrettably that deserved early dismissal has still not happened, and this hunger strike reveals the depths of Said’s disgust and frustration.

“Once again we call on the government and on the Moroccan ambassador Princess Joumala to carry through on their assurances that justice will be done, and ensure that these politically motivated charges are given the short shrift they deserve.”

Moroccan authorities are still in negotiation to attempt to reschedule Comanav-Comarit’s debts, estimated to be in excess of €30 million, following the seizure of all the company’s vessels with Italian ferry group Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV) managing some services. Local news sources have complained recently that charges against several people* arrested in connection with the collapse, including ex Comanav boss Taoufik Ibrahimi as well as union officials, are too vague, and say the accused were ‘conspiring’ without indicating to what purpose.