National Human Rights Commission discusses seafarer rights

Abandoned seafarers. Credit: Mission to Seafarers

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) met with representatives of the Indian maritime industry on 9 July to address the urgent concerns of Indian seafarers. Presided over by secretary-general Jaideep Govind and NHRC member Dyneshwar Mulay, the meeting discussed a range of issues such as the criminalisation and imprisonment of seafarers, seafarer abandonment, fraudulent agents and training institutions, and a lack of local and international mechanisms to address these increasingly common situations.

The meeting was convened following a report arising from a seminar on seafarer human rights organised by the Mumbai-based think-tank Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) in February 2019. The report notes that despite India being one of the founding flag states of the IMO and despite the rapid rise in human rights abuses of seafarers, there remains a failure to analyse and address these concerns across the Indian maritime supply chain.

Captain Sanjay Prashar, vice-president of FINS, noted that abandoned seafarers have often not been paid for months before their abandonment, compounding their desertion in foreign countries with a lack of resources that affect them and their families back home. To reiterate his point, the session screened a recording by Vikas Mishra, a seafarer who has been abandoned aboard a ship for 33 months without the company resolving the situation or providing his unpaid wages.

The session additionally noted that nearly 200 Indian seafarers remain incarcerated in foreign countries, often innocent of wrongdoing and having been abandoned by shipowners and shipping companies. They are rarely paid by the company or formally compensated for this period following their release, leaving them psychologically and economically at risk yet unable to resolve these issues. Indian seafarers are being detained in Ghana, Indonesia, Iran, and the UAE. Speaking with Safety at Sea, Capt Prashar noted that it was essential that the country stood for its seafarers in these various scenarios.

The issue of fraudulent training institutes and associated agents was also raised, as their recruitment often targets young men between the age of 18 and 22 seeking upward economic mobility, only to leave them ill-trained and often at the mercy of abusive shipowners or shipping companies. While the Indian Penal Code (IPC) does have statutes that will allow it to address fraud or illegal systems, it rarely allows such cases to be registered or fought, leaving defrauded seafarers without local recourse. It was additionally noted that the directorate-general of shipping has approved 400 agencies that recruit seafarers but fail to act when seafarers are abandoned or end up in foreign jails. P&I insurance clubs were also noted to be negligent in these scenarios.

Captain LK Panda pointed to the need for the Gazette of 2016 for Recruitment and Placement Agencies of Shipping to be revised, and the jurisdictions and powers of the directorate-general of shipping to be defined so as to allow for action when claims of human rights abuses are lodged by seafarers. Further concerns such as smuggling, kidnapping, and other illegal activities at sea were also raised as concerns.