International backing has been given to a new initiative from London-based Seafarers Rights’ International (SRI), which aims to harness the support of governments worldwide in implementing locally-binding legislation on the fair treatment of seafarers following a maritime casualty.
Representatives from more than 50 countries attended a specially convened workshop on the subject organised by SRI, and addressed by key speakers including Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the IMO.
Government Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Director Generals and Permanent Representatives from the world’s leading maritime nations, including many crew supply countries, joined leading international judges, barristers, prosecutors and seafarer associations at the event to discuss the key issue of Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident and explore ways these Guidelines could be implemented into national legislation.
Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of Seafarers’ Rights International, who opened the workshop, said the level of international support at the event across many stakeholder groups was important because it “mixed the practical effects of the guidelines with the legal aspects associated with their implementation”.
“We had a panel of three judges from the International Court of Justice, the Tribunal of the Law of the Sea and from the Supreme Court of the Philippines. We also had an emeritus professor of maritime law, a prosecutor, a Lead Auditor from the IMO as well as a casualty investigator from the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch who discussed no-blame casualty investigations,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
It is not often that the international law community is given the opportunity to discuss a crucial issue concerning seafarers’ rights in such an informal but thought-provoking way, she added.
Whilst some governments have already given effect to the Guidelines, it is important that other governments consider the Guidelines and look at ways they can be introduced into their national legislation, Ms Fitzpatrick stressed. “We want to raise awareness of the Fair Treatment of Seafarers at international, regional and local levels, and advise on how best countries can implement the guidelines and have the right laws in place in the event of a maritime casualty investigation occurring in their jurisdiction.
“The next step will be to run regional workshops outside the UK, and we have already had offers from participants to host similar workshops in their own countries,” she added.
The workshop, organised in conjunction with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, was opened by several key speakers including Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF and Jacqueline Smith, Maritime Coordinator of the ITF, as well as Corinne Vargha, Director of Labour Standards at the ILO. Following this, government representatives took the opportunity to deliver powerful statements endorsing the fair treatment of seafarers, beginning with statements from the Minister of Justice from the Philippines and the Minister of Ports and Shipping from Sri Lanka.
Masters and seafarers and welfare agencies were also present to evidence their deep concern about criminalisation of seafarers and to explain the consequences when seafarers are not treated fairly.