Shipping is one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic industries in the world today. It makes a significant contribution to the prosperity and wealth of nations. It has been said that, without ships, half of the world would freeze and the other half would starve. Yet the very nature of the industry, conducted in the middle of oceans away from the public gaze, makes it largely unseen and unreported.
Today the industry faces many threats including terrorism, spiralling oil prices and piracy. But arguably the biggest long-term crisis facing the maritime industry is the recruitment and retention of skilled and reliable seafarers – the industry’s most important asset.
Numerous factors relating to job satisfaction are citied for the crisis. Without doubt, the risks and hardships, and some of the abuses that seafarers face in their everyday working lives, are significant factors affecting recruitment and retention. These make it much less likely that high-calibre, high-quality young people will choose a career in shipping.
Seafarers are just like other workers: they should be entitled to the full and just protection of the law. As mobile workers they are highly vulnerable operating within and across different national jurisdictions, and they are subject to different national and international laws often in the course of one voyage. They can find themselves unfairly imprisoned for carrying out their duties and subjected to attacks on their safety that would not be justified or allowed in any other industry.
“What is difficult to understand is why a major global industry, with a creditable historical record, should be so careless in the way it deals with one of its most important assets,” wrote Judge Thomas Mensah, International Tribunal for the Law of Sea.
It was the paucity – and in some cases, the absence – of resources giving legal protection and advancing seafarers’ rights that led to the creation of Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI).
“Seafarers deserve a better deal from law makers and from the enforcement mechanisms of the law. It is shameful if the collective effort of politicians and legal systems ends up as lip service only and if seafarers fall into the cracks that characterise one of the most deregulated industries,” said Deirdre Fitzpatrick, SRI’s founder and first executive director.
SRI was launched on World Maritime Day 2010 in response to the growing need to raise awareness of seafarers’ rights and to provide a resource for seafarers and for all stakeholders with a genuine concern for the legal protection of seafarers around the world. SRI received start-up funding from the Seafarers’ Trust, a UK charity dedicated to the welfare of seafarers. SRI is actively seeking funding from other sources.