Calls to protect seafarers during accident investigations


Industry has expressed concerns that seafarers are treated more like criminals than helpful witnesses during accident investigations. Credit: Eric Houri


Government representatives, ambassadors, and maritime organisations from more than 50 states around the world are demanding better protection of seafarers' rights following maritime accidents.


The call came at the first ever international workshop to promote the IMO Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident, organised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI).


During the event it was discussed how best to implement the Guidelines set out by the IMO, among fears that seafarers are treated more like criminals than helpful witnesses during accident investigations. A survey by SRI in 2012 found that 81% of seafarers felt they had been treated unfairly by accident investigators.


IMO secretary-general, Kitack Lim, said that in a number of high-profile cases seafarers have been detained, imprisoned, or face criminal charges. “Being deprived of your liberty and badly treated without having faced trial or being able to respond to the accusations made against you is simply not fair – especially when, as is usually the case, seafarers' actions are dictated by events outside their immediate control.”


Deirdre Fitzpatrick, executive director of SRI, told Safety at Sea that the workshop focused on how the protections for seafarers contained in the Guidelines could be enshrined in national law. “This is the first step for ensuring that seafarers receive fair treatment,” she said.


The Guidelines give advice on steps to be taken by all those who might be involved following an incident including the port or coastal State, flag State, the seafarer's State, the shipowner, and seafarers themselves. The emphasis is on co-operation and communication between those involved, and in ensuring that no discriminatory or retaliatory measures are taken against seafarers because of their participation in investigations.


Seafarers are recognised as a special category of worker, the Guidelines state, due to the global nature of the shipping industry. The overall goal is to ensure that “seafarers are treated fairly following a maritime accident and during any investigation and detention by public authorities and that detention is for no longer than necessary”. The hope is that this will prevent cases similar to that of Seaman Guard Ohio, where 35 crew have been detained since 2013 after they entered India’s territorial waters for bunkering.


Jacqueline Smith, maritime co-ordinator of the ITF said, “There are no acceptable arguments against the fair treatment of seafarers and we consider it is the moral and legal obligation of all members of the industry to support our work to ensure the fair treatment of seafarers. Seafarers deserve nothing less.”


Fitzpatrick told Safety at Sea that there was a clear message from more than 30 statements made by government officials, maritime organisations and professionals at the workshop that seafarers must be made aware of the risks when they face an investigation and be educated about their rights. “This message coming from the leading labour supply countries shows a firm determination to have the Guidelines enshrined in law and enforced in practice,” she concluded.

Contact: Tanya Blake or follow her on twitter @tanya_blake

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