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Shipping urged to end human rights abuses

Report finds that seafarer rights have suffered setbacks during the pandemic

In a report to mark Human Rights Day on December 10, welfare group finds seafarers still face abuses in several key areas. The shipping industry must do more to improve the lot of its seaborne workforce

HUMAN Rights at Sea has called on the shipping industry to adopt the recommendations in a report it has published to mark the UN’s Human Rights Day.

Drawing from 40 publicly accessible reports, articles and documents, the publication recounts the magnitude of risks to seafarers’ rights during the pandemic and highlights 10 areas of abuse.

“As supply chains keep moving, the stamping on seafarers’ fundamental rights quietly continues unabated as evidenced through international reporting,” said David Hammond, chief executive of the seafarers’ charity.

The most common abuses identified were crew change; key-worker status; contract duration; mental well-being; minimum wage; underpayment and non-payment of salary; crew abandonment; family impact; denial of medical care ashore; and vaccination.

“What is occurring behind the scenes can only be extrapolated from the limited cases which make it to the public’s awareness compounded by a top-down unwillingness and International Maritime Organization policy not to expose abusers for an embedded fear of tainting reputations and upsetting states.”

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, the disarray in the global shipping industry had led to abuses of human, labour and social rights for seafarers, the charity said.

“Cited as the single greatest threat to the global shipping industry since the Second World War, the crew change crisis saw around 400,000 seafarers stranded on their vessels at its height in 2020,” it said. “However, long-term under-reporting of abuses in the maritime industry, combined with often ineffective application of existing legislation, has created a systemic threat to the adequate protection of seafarers’ rights which extends beyond the distresses witnessed during the early stages of the pandemic.”

It makes three key recommendations to better protect seafarers and their families through increased public transparency of cases, better media profiling, and the exposure of known abusers for increased deterrent effect.

“Without an accurate and transparent recording of all cases of human, labour, and social rights abuses towards seafarers there remains a lack of international awareness, a lack of demonstrable pressure to affect effective remedies, and a lack of reliable evidence to drive policy and legislative change in favour of reform for increased protection of seafarers’ rights beyond current minimum standards,” it said.

Despite increasing data on seafarer welfare, gaps in reporting meant statistics were hard to find and HRAS called for greater access to welfare records and union, insurance and shipping association databases.

“The shipping industry is urged to rapidly address the recommendations and adopt these measures should it wish to truly be the global influencer that it claims to be.”

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