New year, old issues

Editor Alt
Tanya Blake SAS Editor. Credit: IHS Markit

As we stare down the barrel of a new decade, let’s make a resolution as an industry to do more to protect the safety and rights of seafarers

This is the first editor’s comment that I am writing in not only a new year, but a new decade; an ideal time to set some resolutions together. Looking at the first few articles on the Safety at Sea website in 2020 I was saddened, but not surprised, to find they all had one thing in common: seafarers being put at risk in the line of duty.

The stories range from crew kidnappings and killings in Nigeria, crew being detained by Iran over claims of illegal oil smuggling, and a Chinese dredging company being sued in a complex court case over unpaid crew wages.

Too often it is crew that are getting caught up in political situations such as that in Iran, or face criminalisation for working on vessels flouting regulations that is unlikely to have been their decision to do so.

While all of the issues are complex and require collaboration with navies and international governments, I believe shipping’s resolution for this year, and the next decade, should be to continue to improve the treatment and protection of crew.

The industry relies upon hardworking seafarers and yet we continue to see the same bad actors ignore seafarer’s working rights, withholding pay, reneging on contracts, or providing substandard living conditions.

It is not hard to find out who these companies are – a quick scan of seafarer abandonment database or search online will provide a wealth of information. We can and must do better at stopping these nefarious companies from continuing to abuse crew with little to no consequence. I, therefore, stand by previous comments I have made that repeatedly and publicly calling out companies disregarding or not signing up to regulation protecting seafarer rights, such as MLC 2006, and who are known to abandon crew or ignore safe practices to boost the bottom line, will tarnish their reputation and help to drive them from our industry.

For Safety at Sea’s part we will continue to shed a light on this topic through our news and articles. Where the good shipping companies are concerned, and there are many out there, and those in the wider maritime supply chain, it must be about refusing to legitimise or do business with these known perpetrators. Be stringent and firm about checking who you are doing business with and make it a point to examine their track record when it comes to safety incidents and the treatment of their employees.

For crew, make it a point to find out what workers rights you are protected by and brief yourself on what to do and the organisations you can contact if you ever find yourself in a difficult or dangerous position. There are mechanisms out there to get overdue wages owed you, there are charities, unions, and legal teams that will provide support and assistance to you and your families can find them regularly mentioned in these pages and are just a quick internet search away.

In addition, whistleblowing is a powerful tool to raise awareness. Social media can be used to name and shame companies and highlight the profile of any issue you might be facing with the wider community.

Many crew abandonment cases have been brought to light and helped to be resolved this way. Although, please do ensure you are using social media not just to air grievances and only if you’ve exhausted your official channels to resolve issues with your employer.

Let’s make a resolution to ensure our industry is a safer, fairer place for seafarers to work.