Even as the MLC 2006 show hits the road, a press release from London based research firm Seafarers' Rights International says that a survey of almost three and a half thousand seafarers- conducted over a year in eight languages with 68 nationalities surveyed- shows once again that the vast majority of the world's mariners suffer the consequences of lack of legal representation, unfair treatment, absence of interpreters and intimidation when they face legal charges during the performance of their duties.
Questions were asked from seafarers who had faced criminal charges across the world. About 44% of respondents who had faced charges said they were bodily searched. 87% said that they did not have legal representation; 91% who needed interpretation services said that they were not provided with any and 89% who had faced criminal charges said that they did not have their rights explained to them. Almost a quarter of the Masters surveyed had faced criminal charges.
Four fifths of mariners felt threatened and intimidated. A similar number said they did not receive fair treatment. Close to half feared incriminating themselves in an enquiry after a casualty. “The information that I would provide might be used against me” and “Anything you say can be used as evidence against you” were typical refrains.
“The voices of seafarers are expressing real fears and concerns over criminal charges and it must be in the interests of the whole maritime industry that these are addressed and seafarers adequately protected. The prospect of criminal charges is daunting for any human being, whether in your own country, or even more so in a foreign country, and so for seafarers entering foreign ports on a daily basis, the risks are high and the consequences can be dire if fair and due process is not followed,” said Deirdre Fitzpatrick, SRI Executive Director.
As part of the extensive survey, SRI says it looked at all the incidents reported in the maritime press over the last twelve years and has concluded- after examining 415 incidents involving 1580 seafarers- that the numbers of detained mariners is rising.
A senior Master spoke to us on the condition of anonymity. "Managers and owners are only interested in making a scapegoat out of the Master, officers and crew after an incident. They will do anything, including pressuring the Master to falsify records and then throwing him to the wolves, to save a buck. People external to the company all have their own agendas. Fair treatment and justice for a seafarer is the last thing anybody is interested in. This is a big reason why we have so many reluctant sailors and have a hard time convincing youngsters that this is a 'career of choice.'"
Besides raising awareness of seafarer rights, promoting maritime legal expertise and providing institutional legal support towards justice for seafarers, SRI intends to "promote research, education and training in the legal rights and remedies applicable to seafarers for the purpose of improving the effective protection of seafarers and the safeguarding of their interests."
Fitzpatrick says, “We hope that the results of this survey will provide momentum for increased efforts to ensure fair treatment of seafarers, whether innocent or guilty of a criminal charge, and that from this survey, the faces and the voices of the seafarers will be seen clearly and heard loudly”.