Nautilus International hits out at ‘modern slavery’ in British waters

Shipping trade union Nautilus International has called on the British government to stamp out maritime modern slavery. The organisation has claimed in a release that modern slavery in UK waters is “alive and kicking”.

The union has warned of the plight of seafarers working on foreign flagged ships in British waters, who are receiving minimal or no pay and suffering atrocious conditions.

Recently, Nautilus International worked to raise awareness of the deplorable conditions seafarers had to suffer onboard a Turkish ship detained in the UK port of Runcorn. The crew, who were being paid wages as low as $0.85 an hour, had to endure a cockroach infestation onboard with no fresh food and were found to be owed almost $74,000 in back pay following checks by Nautilus/ITF inspector Tommy Molloy. Nautilus International, which represents 22,000 maritime professionals at sea and ashore, together with the ITF lodged protests with the ship’s Turkish owners and the Panama ship registry over the shocking conditions onboard the 1,596 gt general cargo ship Seccadi.

As a result, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the UK Border Force detained the vessel for a number of health and safety violations directly related to the sub-standard conditions onboard. After the expiration of the crew’s leave of stay, they had effectively become illegal workers with no protections and faced deportation. The combined efforts of the Nautilus/ITF inspector, the MCA and the UK Border Force finally resulted in payment of owed wages and the repatriation of the seafarers to their homes following lengthy prevarication by the vessel’s operator, Voda Shipping of Turkey.

“To counter the profiteering at the expense of seafarers, Nautilus International is raising awareness to politicians and the general public with regards to the prevalence of modern slavery in the shipping industry,” the union stated in a release.

The Modern Slavery Act, which came into British law in 2015, was introduced to protect those held in slavery or servitude and saw the maximum jail term for traffickers rise from 14 years to life.

“Despite new powers enabling the Police, the Border Force and the National Crime Agency to board and search vessels, Nautilus has identified the exploitation of individuals, mainly of South and South East Asian origin, and profiteering by certain shipowners continues,” the trade union stated.

Nautilus launched its Charter for Jobs at the union’s UK branch conference in October 2016, a ten-point charter calling on the government to level the playing field for seafarers in delivering decent work and training opportunities. Point eight of the charter provides a commitment to lobby the government and industry to apply the national minimum wage, the national living wage and the Equality Act to all vessels engaged in UK waters.

In the first win for Nautilus’ charter earlier this year, Scotland’s transport minister Humza Yousaf instigated plans to ensure foreign seafarers on Seatruck ferries running to Orkney and Shetland were paid at least the UK minimum wage after the union found some crew were earning as little as £3.66 an hour.

Nautilus general secretary, Mark Dickinson, commented: “We’re calling on the government to affirm its commitments in tackling modern slavery in the shipping industry. There is an out of sight and out of mind attitude towards conditions in some parts of the industry where seafarers are being exploited, but it won’t come as a surprise to those working in the industry that these practices are happening. Despite the Modern Slavery Act and international legislation, we’re finding that some shipowners are continuing to profiteer at the expense of crew. In many cases, seafarers are disposable, treated as a commodity rather than human beings. They’re being paid cents per hour, when they’re lucky enough to get paid. Twinned with this, we regard the lack of food or repatriation provided is an abhorrent example of slavery in modern day Britain.”

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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