Thursday, October 10, 2019

Criminalisation a Major Fear of Seafarers According to Union Report

Crews Concerned About Risks of All Types
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – At its 2019 General Meeting held in Rotterdam this week, the union of maritime professionals, Nautilus International, heard the results of the Nautilus Federation report into criminalisation in the shipping industry, and the results are somewhat worrying with almost 90% of the seafarers questioned expressing concerns about the issue and two thirds saying it impacted on the way they felt about working in the profession.

A quarter of 612 seafarers surveyed by the Union identified the issue as a truly global one, saying they did not feel safe from criminalisation anywhere in the world, a change from the Union’s 2010 survey when member concerns centred around Northern America, Europe and Africa. Crime of course comes in many forms, from outright acts of piracy, or robbery whilst a vessel is at anchor, to the withholding of wages by unscrupulous operators and theft of personal goods.

Pollution was also noted as becoming an increasingly important issue for seafarers, as well as the media, and tellingly was identified as the biggest issue that respondents believed they could be criminalised for. Most respondents revealed they believe the public and political reaction to a spill affects the likelihood of being treated unfairly, with many speaking of the fear of being held criminally responsible for circumstances which were out of their control.

One only has to read our own reports of criminal cases involving ships crews’ where ‘magic pipes’ have been used to ditch polluted waste water, or oil records have been falsified with the coercion of management or senior officers, to gauge the seriousness of the problem.

Respondents noted the case of the Prestige tanker, which sank in 2002, polluting the Spanish coastline, as an example that contributes to their own fears. It was widely acknowledged that the public and media outcry, along with a desire to hold someone to account, led to the ship’s master being convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for recklessness leading to catastrophic environmental damage 14 years later. Despite deep concerns over the judicial process the belated trial went ahead.

The report forms the basis of Nautilus’s fair treatment campaign, which is committed to raising awareness of the issue of criminalisation at sea and providing practical support for seafarers. The Union’s support network includes a 24/7 helpline, a worldwide network of lawyers and the JASON advice and assistance scheme (Nautilus Federation’s Joint Assistance & Support Network), run in partnership with Nautilus Federation unions. The Union has also developed a new mobile app, giving members instant access to advice following an incident at work.

The app, which was shared with members for testing at the General Meeting this week, has on and offline functions to support seafarers regardless of their location and access to the internet. Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus International, said:

”The seafaring industry is truly unique, and this unfortunately means that sometimes workers find themselves in situations that simply wouldn’t happen in the vast majority of other professions. Thankfully, the number of prosecutions in the industry remains relatively low but even minor brushes with the law can be quite frightening, especially as they often occur a long way from home, with no support.

“That is why we’re committed to tackling the issue head on, working with members to understand their concerns and taking action to address these. We’re very proud of our app, which will provide crucial support including information on local laws and where members can access support wherever they may be working. We cannot let the voice of our seafarers on the impact of the fear of criminalisation be ignored.”

Any members facing troubles with criminalisation are encouraged to speak with the Nautilus 24/7 helpline via this link.

Photo: The case of the Prestige foundering off the Spanish coast in 2002 after the skipper strongly advised against the instructions of the authorities, still brings bitter memories for those on both sides of the argument.