What is Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI)?
SRI is a unique and independent centre established to “promote, implement, enforce and advance all seafarers’ and fishers’ rights and remedies, including human rights and the rights of other persons on board vessels, through research, education and training throughout the international maritime industry, and advocacy in international, regional and national forums, and to provide a database of materials for the benefit of the international community.” It has to be emphasized that the work of SRI concerning the human rights of seafarers and fishers necessarily extends to the human rights of all people at sea. This is because the human rights of seafarers and fishers interrelate with the human rights of other people at sea.
When was SRI set up?
SRI was incorporated on 8 April 2010 and launched at the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations by the then Secretary-General, Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, on World Maritime Day in the Year of the Seafarer, 23 September 2010. At the launch, Secretary-General Mitropoulos said:
“When 2010 was first proposed as the Year of the Seafarer, I remarked upon the unique hazards that confront the 1.5 million seafarers in the world. As well as the natural hazards of the sea and the elements, which they have to deal with as a matter of course, they also face exceptional hazard, such as pirate attacks, unwarranted detention and abandonment.
The launch of Seafarers’ Rights International today will undoubtedly help those seafarers caught up in those hazards, through no fault of their own, by providing a centre dedicated to advancing seafarers’ interests through research, education and legal training concerning seafarers’ issues.”
Why is it needed?
Seafarers can fall through a legal gap: they are mobile workers and often they do not receive the protections in law that land-based workers do. There is a raft of international, regional and domestic laws that might apply to seafarers, but the situation is often complex and seafarers and those advising them need access to a range of information and expertise to find solutions to the growing and increasingly complex number of legal issues seafarers face.
In 2005, the Executive Director of SRI co-edited a unique, comprehensive and authoritative book on seafarers’ rights which was published by Oxford University Press (see http://seafarersrights.org/seafarers-rights-book/). The book provides the reader with a systematic analysis of the rights of seafarers in the context of the international shipping industry, showing how they are made up of a combination of national and international laws, drawn from a number of sources including maritime law, labour law and international human rights law.
The book was reviewed as follows:
“This Seafarers’ Rights is not just an extremely readable, high-quality reference book, it is one everyone involved in shipping must read” Lloyd’s List
“Pushing at the legal boundaries to protect lives and human rights. A study of international maritime law is essential reading.” Dr. Aleka Mandaraka Sheppard
“Suffice to say that human rights of seamen had finally arrived on the maritime legal scene and the book is a first rate academic research on the subject.” Captain Laszlo Kovats
In 2010, the ITF Seafarers’ Trust provided funding for the establishment of SRI as a pan-industry initiative and to be an independent organization that would complement the work of existing organizations in pursuit of seafarers’ rights, including fishers’ rights. At the launch of SRI, on 23 September 2010, David Cockroft, then General Secretary of the ITF and Trustee of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, said:
“The basic human rights of seafarers need to be highlighted and defended or numbers will continue to fall and shipping’s already poor image to the outside world and to today’s young people will worsen.
That’s why it is so important to all stakeholders in the industry to see a new independent body, dedicated to identifying and tackling the rights of seafarers. The Seafarers’ Trust was very pleased to provide [SRI] with the start-up grant it needed to get things underway, but it now needs to go forward.
The difference with [SRI] is that it is above politics – it is about the seafarer as a human being.”
Seafarers are an invisible workforce. Daily they transport over 90% of the goods that we all rely on. As mobile workers, they operate within and across different national jurisdictions and they are subject to different laws. In some cases, there may be doubt as to what, if any, law is applicable or enforceable. Generally they are excluded from domestic labour laws. Yet the nature of their work means that seafarers are vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. They need expert advice and assistance.
What are the problems?
Seafarers face a range of work-related problems including problems arising from their contracts; unpaid or underpaid wages; abandonment by their shipowners; discrimination; personal injuries or deaths from accidents at work; health related issues; criminal charges; piracy; access to shore leave.
How does SRI work?
SRI is a unique resource dedicated to developing understanding and use of the laws affecting seafarers, and enforcement of seafarers’ rights. It identifies current issues in the maritime industry where the legal position can be developed further into research projects which will have practical outcomes for seafarers and those working to assist seafarers – such as guides, fact files, and publications generally.
Is SRI a campaigning or advocacy organisation?
SRI does not generally carry out advocacy, campaigning or case work because many others are already doing this work well. Instead it is SRI’s aim to strengthen and support their work and to contribute to political, industrial, campaigning and lobbying agendas towards the promotion, protection and enforcement of seafarers’ rights under a just system of laws.
What difference will SRI make to seafarers?
It is the first centre and resource of its kind dedicated to the protection and promotion of seafarers’ rights. As such, it builds capacity for seafarers, international maritime trade unions and other representatives working for seafarers’ interests. It raises awareness about issues of seafarers’ law, rights and remedies amongst policy makers, lobbyists, academics, legal practitioners and others in the maritime industry. It produces publications to help seafarers and their representatives.
Who are SRI’s principal stakeholders?
SRI’s main stakeholders are those with an interest in the protection and advancement of seafarers’ rights. They include seafarers themselves; shipowners, ship managers and other commercial enterprises who wish to benchmark their treatment of crew to the highest standards; welfare organisations; governments; non-governmental organisations; legal practitioners; United Nations bodies including the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labour Organization (ILO); unions; academics and students.
Will SRI offer legal services direct to seafarers?
No. SRI does not provide direct services to seafarers since this service is already provided by many other stakeholders.