Culture of coercion at sea in the spotlight

The International Tranport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Joint Negotiating Group, representing seafarer employers, have issued a joint statement today, urging companies to stop coercing crew to extend their contracts during the ongoing crew change crisis. The joint statement also calls on charterers to be more lenient, and allow ship diversions to get some of the hundreds of thousands of stranded seafarers home.

Seafarers have a real fear that if they speak or stand up that their careers could be over

More than 400,000 seafarers remain stranded working on vessels, forced to extend their tours of duty due to border and travel restrictions imposed by many governments around the world, as well as the scarce availability of international flights brought about by the pandemic.

“We are uniting to call for ship owners, charterers, management companies, manning agents, hiring partners and all other stakeholders to commit to not applying pressure on seafarers or coercing them in any way to extend their contracts. Neither should they deny seafarers the ability to exercise their human right to stop working, leave ships, and return home,” reads today’s joint statement, issued 208 days since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic.

The ITF’s general secretary, Stephen Cotton said the federation and its affiliates were urging all stakeholders in the industry to take responsibility for supporting crew change wherever they could: “Seafarers have a real fear that if they speak or stand up that their careers could be over. Fear of blacklisting prevents them from enforcing their own worker and human rights. Given the mental and physical fatigue caused by extended time onboard, it is more important than ever during this crew change crisis that seafarers are able to speak up. We will be coming down hard on anyone in the industry who thinks they can get away with targeting seafarers who use their rights to reject contract extensions. Our industry is better than that.”

The statement from the ITF and the JNG went on to call for charterers to agree charter party agreements that allow flexibility for shipowners and managers to divert ships and call in ports where crew change is possible, without imposing penalties.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


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