Corruption in ports puts pressure on crews

Bundles of dollars in cash a common currency used in bribery. Credit Jim Wilson

Besides the usual dangers seafarers face, there is now the added pressure of dealing with bribery, theft and fraud in certain ports, which the crew often has to finance out of their own pockets.

Interviews with crew members by the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) at Cardiff University found that they are often faced with demands for cash, alcohol or cigarettes in exchange of pilot, tug or other services when their vessels enter ports.  One of the interviewees said he had seen a supervisor hand over his own money, fearing a delay to their schedule might cause him to lose his job.

In other cases, port officials raid the ship’s provisions, leaving the crew on food rations between ports. Researchers were told of incidents where vital safety equipment, such as fire hoses, on board is compromised by thefts of brass fittings, while bunker fraud, where fuel is under delivered, was also reported.

“The amount of resistance they [the crew] can mount in the face of such practices is limited and they are increasingly constrained by relatively new company policies aligning with anti-corruption legislation. This places them in an unenviable position when they arrive in ports and are met with demands for things, which they cannot provide, from powerful individuals who can arrange for the delay and detention of a ship at considerable cost to their employers,” said Professor Helen Sampson of the SIRC.

 “In these circumstances, seafarers fear being blamed, and potentially sacked, by their companies for any negative outcomes arising from their refusal to meet the demands of port personnel. As a result, they may resort to disbursing their own personal cash or using the welfare funds which are provided for recreational equipment on board.

“It is also important that employers understand the position of seafarers in these situations and the desperate measures they resort to as a result of being placed in an impossible position. I hope our research will help improve the lives of the many seafarers that are affected by these issues,” she said.

The findings of the research has been packaged into a film to raise awareness of the seafarers’ plight, which Sampson will present at the CrewConnect European conference in Amsterdam in May.

Versions of the film are available in English with subtitles in Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and French.