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Seafarers are not asking for much. They certainly don’t expect to be treated like prima donnas. They just want a seaworthy vessel, good pay, decent food and accommodation at sea, and humane employers. Unfortunately, these needs are not always met. Seafarers from developing countries often get the short end of the stick — victims, not only of those who abuse them, but of a system that has virtually reduced them to mere commodities. Call it wishful thinking, but the following changes would help reverse the situation.

1. Easing of burdensome training requirements

Ship officers won’t have to undergo another round of training to renew their certificates. Their sea experience will be given proper weight. Unnecessary courses such as the money-making Maritime English will be scrapped.

2. Rogue shipowners held accountable

Shipowners who operate unseasworthy vessels or whose policies result in serious accidents will face heavy fines and imprisonment in case of the loss of human lives. Those who abandon their crews will be sanctioned and blacklisted.

3. Proper vetting of manning agencies

Unions will see to it that seafarers are paid the right wages under the collective bargaining agreement and their remittances are properly handled by the manning agency. Both unions and shipping companies will immediately cut their ties with any manning agency found to have cheated and otherwise exploited seafarers.

4. Honest handling of seafarer remittances

Seafarers’ family allotments will be paid directly to the families (allottees) as mandated by ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. They will not pass through the hands of manning agents, who, as regularly happens in Manila, play with the foreign exchange rate to short-change their crews.

5. Prompt release of sickness, disability and death benefits

Manning agencies will facilitate payment of such benefits due to seafarers. They will refrain from using legal manoeuvres and other ploys to block the release of the money in order to ingratiate themselves with their foreign principals.

6. Facilitation of the departure of seafarers at international airports

As workers who are critical to global trade, seafarers will be processed at airports through a dedicated fast lane. They will not be subjected to any form of harrassment and racial profiling but accorded respect by airport, immigration and customs personnel.

7. Coordinated action to repatriate seafarers

All parties concerned (shipowners, governments, port authorities, etc.) will do everything possible to repatriate seafarers under the circumstances spelled out in ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. Seafarers will not be left stranded in foreign ports and harbours for long periods because of inaction by those responsible.

~ Barista Uno

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