In his splendid 1922 book, All About Coffee. William H. Ukers wrote: “(Coffee) acts upon the nervous system as a powerful cerebro-spinal stimulant, increasing mental activity and quickening the power of perception, thus making the thoughts more precise and clear…” Given how seafarers’ rights continue to be routinely violated, the campaign to promote these rights needs a similar stimulant — a strong push, a fillip. The following are six ways that should help achieve this goal.

Cut down on the slogans and rhetoric.

This deserves to be on top of the list. Slogans which are meant to promote seafarers’ rights tend to sugar-coat reality. How can the shipping community praise seafarers as “key workers” or “unsung heroes of global trade” when thousands of seafarers have been stranded amidst the coronavirus pandemic?

See my blog post, Day of the Seafarer: Empty tributes amid COVID-19.

Integrate seafarers’ rights into the curriculum of all maritime colleges.

Enlightened seafarers are more likely to stand up for their rights. ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, should be required reading in the first year of a cadet’s studies. However, equal emphasis should be laid on the duties of seafarers.

Abolish the Maritime Labour Certificate (MLC) scheme under ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

Nowadays certificates are a dime a dozen. Ships covered by an MLC are normally not subject to inspection — unless Port State Control officials have reason to believe that it is in breach of certain provisions of the Convention. The certification scheme is tantamount to a waiver system. All ships should be subject to random inspection.

Impose fines on ship owners and operators for every single breach of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

Motorists are slapped fines or even jailed for violations of traffic regulations. Why should shipping companies be treated differently? 

Blacklist shipping companies that abandon their crews.

The ILO Abandonment of Seafarers database is like decaffeinated coffee. It conspicuously fails to identify the companies involved in each case. Considering the unending cases of abandoned crews, perhaps it is time to establish an international register of rogue shipowners similar to a register of sex offenders.

Make it a crime to use maritime cadets as unpaid office workers and domestic servants.

The practice is rampant in Manila. It refuses to die in part because the unions seem reluctant to take up the issue. Everyone considers it normal even though it is clearly servitude, not internship, that the cadets are made to undergo.

See my blog post, Filipino maritime cadets as modern-day slaves.

~ Barista Uno

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