This is a major rewrite of an article that first appeared in Marine Café Blog in 2021.

People can talk all day long about seafarers’ rights. The fact remains, however, that seafarers lie at the bottom of the maritime food chain. The forms of exploitation and mistreatment of those who man merchant ships are myriad.

And the perpetrators? They are a motley group, from shipowners and manning agents to medical doctors and maritime lawyers. Even some active or retired mariners can take advantage of their felllow mariners. The following is a list of things they do which continue to erode seafarers’ rights in the 21st century. Though far from being exhaustive, it paints a sombre picture of what many seafarers have to endure—beyond the sweet-sounding rhetoric and slogans about them.

On land

1. Register a ship under a flag of convenience to hide its real ownership, escape tax and other liabilities, and benefit from cheap labour

2. Exact money from seafarer applicants

3. Practise favouritism in the hiring of seafarers

4. Blacklist seafarers who report abuses to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

5. Let ship officers wait outdoors under the heat of the sun instead of providing an officers’ lounge for their comfort

6. Demand or expect gifts from seafarers returning from sea (e.g., a Johnny Walker or a bottle of perfume to show gratitude to crewing managers)

7. Require cruise ship personnel to undergo medical exams more often than usual (i.e., once in a one-year period)

8. Tell seafarers to undergo surgery for some illness even if it’s not necessary

9. Withhold payment of seafarers’ family allotments and invest the money to earn interest for the manning agency

10. Skim money from the dollar remittances of crew

11. Stonewall seafarers when they follow up unpaid salaries and overtime pay

12. Deny seafarers immediate access to moneys already awarded to them in litigation (by establishing, for example, an escrow fund to keep the money until a final decision from the highest court of the land)

13. Prevent seafarers by legislation and other means from filing tort claims against shipowners for personal injuries

14. Milk seafarers for legal services rendered in connection with money claims

15. Impose unnecessary or redundant training requirements

16. Provide substandard training and education

17. Operate maritime schools and training facilities with poor or outdated equipment

18. Conduct and charge for the “assessment” of shipboard apprentices after they disembark from their vessel (what’s the Training Record Book for?)

19. Issue training certificates to no-show seafarers for a fee

20. Use cadets as unpaid office workers and domestic servants

21. Subject cadets to hazing and other forms of physical and verbal abuse

22. Collect union dues without giving tangible benefits to union members

23. Use the plight of seafarers (e.g., depression at sea) as an excuse to keep donations flowing to a maritime charity

At sea

24. Operate vessels that are unseaworthy or lack adequate life-saving equipment

25. Ignore the minimum levels of manning required under international regulations

26. Provide shipboard food and accommodation not conducive to health and comfort

27. Steal from the food budget alloted for the crew

28. Treat ship officers from developing countries as inferior to Western officers

29. Ignore allegations of shipboard sexual harassment and discrimination

30. Issue questionable or illegal orders and expect the crew to follow them on pain of punishment (remember the 2004 Bow Mariner disaster?)

31. Allow shore managers and supernumeraries to usurp the duties and responsibilities of the ship master

32. Overload ship officers with paper work while at sea

33. Be late in paying shipboard wages or don’t pay them at all

34. Practise double-payrolling

35. Restrict shore leave for no valid reason

36. Abandon the crew when the shipping company finds itself in financial straits

37. Delay the repatriation of a sick or deceased crew member

38. Place more value on the ship and its cargo than on the safety and welfare of the crew

39. Put the entire crew in grave danger through negligence or incompetence on the part of the ship captain

40. Send home a crew member who complains about conditions on board

~ Barista Uno

Did you like this article?  Buy me a coffee

Let us know what you think of this article

Don't Miss the Brew!

Sign up to be notified of updates to Marine Cafe Blog

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest