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March 18, 2010

Prosecutions and piracy threaten seafarer recruitment and retention

Shortages of skilled and qualified seafarers could have an immense impact on the global economy. They are being made worse by the negative impacts of crew criminalization and escalating global piracy, warns InterManager, the international trade association for the ship management industry.

"Legislative measures following an accident or incident have made the seafarer increasingly susceptible to criminalization, and a rising incidence of piracy has led to correspondingly high personal risks," Brian Martis, Chairman of InterManager's Criminalization Committee told delegates at today's India Manning & Training Conference in Mumbai.

"A one-sided view of public interest coupled with political expediency has severely curtailed the human rights of the seafarer," he said. "These factors have had a direct, negative impact on crew retention and the natural replenishment of the work-force. Potential recruits are hesitant to take up a career at sea. The current shortage of skilled and qualified seafarers -- already a significant crisis in the maritime industry -- is further exacerbated."

Mr. Martis pointed to recent studies by BIMCO that identified 14 cases of seafarers being detained that took place during an 11 year period and involved 12 coastal states. These cases involved lengthy detainments and "questionable" applications of law and resulted in no charges.

He cautioned: "The unfair treatment meted out to the officers concerned resonates very strongly with the seafaring community both locally and internationally. A seagoing career with such additional risks to personal freedom and/or safety dissuades young men and women who are about to decide their future careers. I know of several officers who have indicated they will discourage their children from taking up a career at sea."

Mr. Martis told conference delegates that recent cases have shown a marked tendency for seafarers to be:

criminally prosecuted for maritime accidents beyond their control

criminally prosecuted for maritime accidents where there has been some negligence, regardless of the fact that such negligence is not considered criminal in the maritime industry

detained indefinitely within the country that is bringing charges against them

held as "security" or "material witnesses" till the ship owner or P&I Club pays up

held in custody without any access to legal assistance or without being formally convicted of a criminal offense

denied shore leave for arbitrary reasons

Urging the shipping world to tackle the issue of unfair criminalisation, Mr. Martis proposed: "2010 is the Year of the Seafarer and what better way to pay homage than to contribute towards improving his working conditions and protecting his human rights?"


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