Initial results of SRI’s research on seafarers

Initial results of the first major survey undertaken by Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI) into the experiences of seafarers facing criminal charges have thrown up worrying claims that seafarers are subjected to unfair treatment and feel intimidated by policing authorities around the world, and that they are not provided legal representation and interpretation services when needed.

The survey of 3,480 seafarers was undertaken in the 12 months to the end of February 2012. It was conducted in eight languages – Chinese, English, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Tagalog. Responses were received from 18 countries and 68 different nationalities of seafarers.

Of the seafarers surveyed, 8% had faced criminal charges at some stage in their career, while 4% had been witnesses in criminal prosecutions and 33% knew of colleagues who had faced criminal charges. Worryingly, almost 24% of Masters in the survey said they had faced criminal charges.

Responses to the questionnaire were collected by sampling seafarers using the same country proportions of seafarers as contained in BIMCO’s Manpower 2005 Update, the Worldwide Demand for and Supply of Seafarers. The responses were then weighted to incorporate new observations as contained in BIMCO’s Report of Manpower 2010. Thus, the survey is a demographically weighted sample, and a random and representative sample of seafarers from the whole world.

The results of the survey were presented by SRI to the 99th session of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) Legal Committee on 16-20 April 2012 under its agenda item on Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident. The IMO is the only UN body currently discussing the issue of fair treatment of seafarers and the Committee noted that the statistics showed that there is a need for better implementation of the Fair Treatment Guidelines. SRI was encouraged to submit a full report of its study to the next session of the Legal Committee in 2013.

Questions in the survey specifically asked about the experiences of seafarers who had faced criminal charges. Of the seafarers who answered the questions on searches, 44.28% of vessels were searched; and 63.75% of cabins were searched without warrants. Just under 44% of seafarers reported that they were bodily searched, while 87% who faced charges relating to the discharge of their professional duties said that they did not have legal representation. Just over 91% of seafarers who needed interpretation services said that they were not provided with such services; and 89% of seafarers who had faced criminal charges said that they did not have their rights explained to them.

Seafarers were also specifically asked about their perceptions. 80% who had faced criminal charges felt intimidated or threatened. Concerning casualty inquiries and accident investigations, 46% of seafarers who answered the question said that they would be reluctant to cooperate fully and openly with such inquiries. Reasons expressed included: “The information that I would provide might be used against me”; “I would fear incriminating myself”. Overall, 81% of seafarers who faced criminal charges did not consider that they had received fair treatment.

To gain a broader view of criminal charges faced by seafarers, SRI also carried out a review of all incidents involving criminal charges against seafarers reported in Lloyd’s List, TradeWinds and Fairplay, for the 12-year period from 2000-2011. There were 415 incidents reported in this period, involving 1,580 seafarers. Significantly over the period under review, the numbers of maritime criminal incidents and the numbers of detained seafarers showed a tendency to increase.

“The voices of seafarers are expressing real fears and concerns over criminal charges and it must be in the interests of the whole maritime industry that these are addressed and seafarers adequately protected. The prospect of criminal charges is daunting for any human being, whether in your own country, or even more so in a foreign country, and so for seafarers entering foreign ports on a daily basis, the risks are high and the consequences can be dire if fair and due process is not followed,” said Deirdre Fitzpatrick, SRI Executive Director.

She added: “We hope that the results of this survey will provide momentum for increased efforts to ensure fair treatment of seafarers, whether innocent or guilty of a criminal charge, and that from this survey, the faces and the voices of the seafarers will be seen clearly and heard loudly.”

Credits to: Seafarers’ Rights

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