Uncertainties and the Plight of the Seafarer

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Image Courtesy: OSM

While fluctuating crude prices and natural disasters have a severe effect on economies and businesses, often, the plight of those most affected by these events garners little or no attention. These unseen individuals are the worst affected whether there is a change in oil prices or if the weather Gods have decided to release their rage.

A seafarer’s job is considered to be one of the toughest jobs in the world. These are the people that leave their homes and make a great deal of sacrifices to sail these massive vessels through rough seas. There are numerous distress letters that go unnoticed, citing major problems faced by crew such as non payment of wages, and the dearth of basic facilities.

Recently, a very distressed captain of an Indian LPG ship wrote a desperate letter outlining the problems him and his crew were facing on board. These included non payment of crew wages, crew overdue for relief, critical lack of provisions, lack of bunkers, crew that needed immediate medical attention and lack of spares.

The CSCL Jupiter became a tourist attraction when it ran aground in Antwerp on August 15. Local press reported onlookers climbing onto the sand bank the bow of the ship was stuck on. But Fr Jos Vanhoof, Apostleship of the Sea port chaplain in Antwerp, said, “It was sad that nobody seemed concerned about the welfare needs of the 26 crew members. Everyone was preoccupied with who would pay for the refloating operation and other things.”

According to Daily Record, on August 11, “A ship stuck in a Scots harbour in a battle over pay is set to be sold off to recoup the crew’s unpaid wages. The Indian crew of the offshore supply boat Malaviya Seven have been languishing in Aberdeen for 14 months. Its owners GOL Offshore went bust and about 50 past and present crew members claim they are owed more than £668,000 back pay. A dozen remain aboard, relying on handouts from community and voluntary groups in the city to survive. Backed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF), the stranded sailors want the go-ahead to sell the ship and go home.”

In July, the Maritime Executive reported, “Members of the crew of the tanker MT IBA told Human Rights at Sea that they have been threatened with criminal proceedings should they report their concerns to a local authority. They say threats have also been made regarding their careers. The crew comprise nine Indian, three Pakistani, one Sri Lankan and one Myanmarian. They are currently stranded on an unsafe vessel, anchored off the coast of UAE. Their basic human rights breached, with a deprivation of liberty, lack of protection for their health and bodily integrity, lack of protection for their right to life and lack of family life due to their enforced retention on the MT IBA. In addition, for the last six months the crew have been denied access to medical treatment, further aggravating their suffering.”

There are numerous other incidents that document the unbecoming conditions crew have to face. More efforts need to be directed towards their protection and improvement of working conditions.

With the global shipping industry growing every day, attention must be paid to the plight of the seafarer. There is a felt need to understand the issues they are faced with on a daily basis and employ practical measures to mitigate these. Such action will not only ensure smooth sailing but also, a positive environment for all concerned.