Problem Ports: seafarers’ stress and subjugation as a result of corrupt practice

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In interviews conducted by the University of Cardiff, seafarers have spoken about the corrupt practices at ports and the pressure that comes with them.

When ships enter ports, seafarers are often faced with demands for cash or a commission. They often pay out of their own pockets or from the ship’s till because they are afraid of losing their jobs because of delays.

One seafarer said: “There are ports where cigarettes and alcohol are so important that sometimes the pilot boat will refuse to come alongside unless you have a man on the deck waving the cartons for them to take. So that’s a lot of pressure.

“It causes a lot of discomfort and it causes enough discomfort for grown men to shed tears. We feel powerless. It’s very degrading.”

There have also been reports of cases of security equipment theft, which is valuable to the thieves because of the brass.

Another seafarer said: “There are certain ports we go to, where we’ve identified theft is quite high. So, before we arrive, we go around the ship, we remove all those brass fittings so they can’t be taken away. It makes you nervous and worried. We’re trained to deal with fires but we’re not firefighters, so having the safety critical equipment taken away from you because of pilfering leads to that extra stress.”

The film by Professor Helen Sampson of the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) is intended to draw attention to the plight of seafarers.

Professor Sampson, who is based in the University’s School of Social Sciences said: “Our research provides insights into the challenges frequently faced by seafarers. We have reports of port officials engaging in a variety of corrupt practices which include demands for facilitation gifts, theft of provisions, demands for cash payments, theft of brass fittings and equipment and fraud in relation to the supply of fuel, known as bunkers.”

“The amount of resistance they can mount in the face of such practices is limited and they are increasingly constrained by relatively new company policies aligning with anti-corruption legislation. This places them in an unenviable position when they arrive in ports and are met with demands for things, which they cannot provide, from powerful individuals who can arrange for the delay and detention of a ship at considerable cost to their employers.”

“In these circumstances, seafarers fear being blamed, and potentially sacked, by their companies for any negative outcomes arising from their refusal to meet the demands of port personnel. As a result, they may resort to disbursing their own personal cash or ‘raiding’ the welfare funds which are provided for recreational equipment on board.”

“It is important that port officials start to appreciate that they are not engaged in a victimless crime when they make demands for money and provisions from seafarers or when they steal from their vessels.”

The film will be presented to and industry audience at the CrewConnect European conference in Amsterdam. Also the film will be spread around the globe to stakeholders and ports. Therefore the film is available in English with Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and French subtitles. 

“It is also important that employers understand the position of seafarers in these situations and the desperate measures they resort to as a result of being placed in an impossible position. I hope our research will help improve the lives of the many seafarers that are affected by these issues.”

The movie has been produced with funding support from Lloyd’s Register Foundation.