Seafarers, called to unite on fight for their rights and welfare

MANILA, June 25, 2011—The International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) calls on different mariners’ and seafarers’ groups to intensify its struggles for their rights and welfare, as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) declares June 25 as the 1st Day for the Seafarer.

In a statement, ISAC said that seafarers face myriad of problems, which solutions remain “out of hand.” ISAC particularly points out the piracy problem in the Horn of Africa, which victimizes hundreds of seafarers, majority of which are Filipinos.

The IMO had admitted that piracy attacks happen “all year round,” and there had been an international clamor for the United Nations to resolve the issue for good.

“In the Horn of Africa and in theIndian Ocean, seafarers—from able bodied one to officers—continued to fall victim of piracy. Aside from the psychological torture that they experience, their lives are also exposed to more dangers and risks as there were reports that pirates now slay their hostages as the ship-owners continue to decline giving ransom for the ship and the crew. However, this is understandable as ransom often reach a whopping US$1.5 to US$1.7 million. With the world economy is not getting well, there is difficulty for these ship-owners to let go of the said amount. But the life of the crew is not a good barter, either,” reads ISAC statement sent to CBCPNews.com.

Flag of Convenience continuously threatens seafarers’ welfare 

Another issue at hand, says the ISAC, is the use of Flags of Convenience (FOC) that through the years have been putting the lives and pockets of mariners and seafarers, all over the world, at risk.

“A flag of convenience ship is one that flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership is called Flag of Convenience,” explains the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

ITF also explained that cheap registration fees, low or no taxes and freedom to employ cheap labor are the motivating factors behind a ship-owner’s decision to ‘flag out’.

“Seafarers who are employed on FOC ships are often denied their basic human and trade union rights since FOC registers do not enforce minimum social standards. This is what makes the flag so attractive to ship-owners. The home countries of the crew can do little to protect them because the rules that apply on board are often those of the country of registration. As a result, most FOC seafarers are not members of a trade union. For those who are, the union is often powerless to influence what happens on board,” the ITF furthers.

The ITF has enlisted Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda (UK), Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Comoros, Cyprus, Equatorial Guinea, French International Ship Register (FIS), German International Ship Register (GIS), Georgia, Gibraltar (UK), Honduras, Jamaica, Lebanon, Liberia, Malta, Marshall Islands (USA), Mauritius, Mongolia, Netherlands Antilles, North Korea, Panama, Sao Tome and Príncipe, St Vincent, Sri Lanka, Tonga and Vanuatu as FOCs.

Corruption, insufficient laws: deterrent to fast litigation of seafarers’ cases 

In connection with litigation of abuse cases against seafarers, ISAC laments that corruption and insufficient, if not, contradicting laws deter the fast processes of these cases.

“ISAC had been busy, since the date of its inception, in handling cases of seafarers that had been duped by their employers about their salaries, the non-payment of benefits for sickness and disability, and many other issues which concern the health, safety, rights, and welfare of the seamen. The litigation process is difficult, intricate, and not to mention excruciating. Corruption, power play and the deemed inadequacy of the local and international laws play the crucial role in the litigation and execution processes,” ISAC explained.

Nevertheless, ISAC calls on to all seafarers to be united and struggle, in a more fervor manner, for their rights and welfare as workers and as human beings.

“As the international seafaring community welcomes and celebrates June 25th as the First International Day for Seafarers, the men and women boarded on ships sailing on the seven seas of the world, who are toiling hard for the international economic and social development also declare this day as the day of more intense struggle for the recognition of their rights and welfare as workers and as human beings. The ISAC and its allies also declare, June 25th as the start of more intense campaign for the ratification of the MLC and other laws that intend to defend the rights and welfare of the men and women working at sea,” says ISAC. (30)