Health and safety

Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary funding cuts putting seafarers' safety at risk

10 September 2019

Years of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) underfunding are putting British seafarers' lives at risk during times of heightened international tensions, Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson told the 2019 Trades Union Congress in Brighton.

'Shipmasters who put the safety of their crews first and take action to maintain safety in high risk areas must be supported by industry and government with naval support in times of heightened risk to ensure the safety of seafarers on UK ships,' Mr Dickinson said in support of a motion on seafarer safety. 'For this we need more resources for our Royal Navy and for our civilian Royal Fleet Auxiliary.'

He continued: 'Nautilus members – maritime and shipping professionals – are working day and night, week by week, month by month, to deliver all the essential goods that this nation needs to prosper. Delivering the food, the medicines, the fuel, the parts and essential components for our industries and exporting UK manufactured goods.

'Consequently, many of our maritime professionals work globally, and all too often, that can mean they find themselves in the frontline during times of heightened international tensions,' Mr Dickinson stressed.

Seafarers' lives have been put at risk in recent months following a ratcheting up of political tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. Attacks have been made on several commercial vessels including an attempted hijacking of the BP tanker British Heritage by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) and the successful hijacking by the IRG of the Stena Impero and its 23 crew members, seven of whom were released at the start of September.

Following Union pressure, a recent decision was taken by the joint industry social dialogue committee on Warlike Operations to designate the Strait of Hormuz a high-risk zone. Soon after the international committee also designated the area high risk.

'This is effective social dialogue in action, and it seeks to ensure that our members and all seafarers are entitled to enhanced protection,' Mr Dickinson said. 'It follows similar decisions taken both nationally and internationally to declare high risk areas for shipping and seafarers following piracy attacks in the Gulf of Oman and the threat of kidnap in the Gulf of Guinea.'

The general secretary highlighted Nautilus International's request that the Iranian government release the UK registered tanker Stena Impero without any further delay.

The motion was supported by the RMT and Prospect unions and passed unanimously.  

Prospect's Ben Caile said: 'In many parts of the world there is a clear and very real threat to the safety of seafarers from hostile states and many other dangers.  

'We must give full support to any shipmaster who takes action to protect life and limb when under pressure. Safety above all other considerations must be paramount.'

RMT put forward a motion to end the exploitation of seafarers with zero hours contracts and social dumping. The motion was unanimously supported by TUC delegates.