Asian nations pledge fairer treatment of seafarers following maritime accidents

28 December 2018

The global fight for seafarers' rights received a boost last month as key Asian nations pledged to improve the way they deal with maritime accidents and incidents. ANDREW LININGTON reports…

High-level talks between 10 Asian countries have secured a 'crucial' agreement on regional action to enforce the global guidelines that aim to prevent seafarers from being criminalised after accidents.

The meeting in Manila – which was attended by representatives from some of the world's biggest seafarer supply nations – agreed a statement pledging increased cooperation to secure the 'proper and effective implementation' on the guidelines for the fair treatment of seafarers following maritime accidents and incidents.

Delegates from countries including China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Indonesia agreed to work together to raise awareness of the guidelines and to develop resources, knowledge and expertise across the region to assist with their enforcement.

The Manila meeting was the first to be held after an international conference in 2017 recommended a programme of such events to encourage more countries to bring their national legislation into line with the fair treatment guidelines.

The initiative is being led by the London-based organisation Seafarers Rights International (SRI), which has highlighted the slow progress being made across the world to implement the guidelines since they were agreed by the International Maritime Organisation and the International Labour Organisation in 2006.

It comes as Nautilus International has highlighted continued member concerns over the threat of criminalisation, with a survey showing that 87% of maritime professionals are worried about the potential for being treated as a scapegoat after an accident and 70% saying that it affects their desire to work in the industry.

We must create an implementation plan to roll out the statement to ensure that every seafarer feels the benefits of what has been agreed here; that they receive fair treatment

Speaking at the Union’s UK branch symposium on criminalisation in October 2018, SRI executive director Deirdre Fitzpatrick said research had shown that just one-third of IMO member states had implemented the guidelines into their national legislation, one-third said they followed the guidelines and the remainder did nothing at all.

As well as prosecutions arising out of pollution, collisions, fatal accidents, shipwrecks and groundings, she said there are a growing number of cases involving allegations of bribery, breaches of customs and security rules, drug and fuel smuggling, human trafficking and illegal cargoes.

Ms Fitzpatrick welcomed the Manila agreement as a 'crucial step in the fight to raise awareness over the fair treatment of seafarers'. The decision by major Asian countries to back the guidelines is significant, she added, and should pave the way for other regions to follow suit.

International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) general secretary Stephen Cotton attended the meeting and congratulated the Asian nations for the agreement.

Mr Cotton said the ITF is 'totally committed' to making the statement a success. 'Now the hard work begins,' he added. 'We must create an implementation plan to roll out the statement to ensure that every seafarer feels the benefits of what has been agreed here; that they receive fair treatment.'

Top image: pictured at the fair treatment meeting in Manila are Philippines employment minister Silvestre Bello, SRI executive director Deirdre Fitzpatrick, and ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton.