“Built in Spain, owned by a Norwegian, registered in Cyprus, managed from Glasgow, chartered by the French, crewed by Russians, flying a Liberian flag, carrying an American cargo and pouring oil on to the Welsh coast. But who takes the blame?”
Front page of The Independent newspaper which was published as the stricken tanker Sea Empress was spilling oil into the sea off Milford Haven in the United Kingdom in 1996.
Seafarers’ rights is a complex area of law. At any one time, a number of different States may have some kind of interest in a particular ship, and the seafarers that work on that ship. Seafarers’ rights span international and national laws, and they cross law disciplines such as maritime, labour, human rights, criminal and environmental law. There can be conflicts of laws and there are unique challenges in the enforcement of laws for seafarers in what is a highly deregulated industry where there is functional separation of ownership, operation and regulation.
SRI works in three main areas:
- Conducts legal research and analysis on subjects of importance for seafarers;
- Monitors legal developments that affect seafarers;
- Develops and coordinates international networks of researchers, research bodies and universities in the fields of seafarers’ rights, remedies and interests.
Today the maritime industry faces many threats including terrorism, spiralling oil prices and piracy. But arguably the biggest long-term crisis facing the industry is the recruitment and retention of skilled and reliable seafarers – the industry’s most important asset.
As mobile workers, seafarers are highly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, ill treatment and injustice. 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.
There are unique challenges in the enforcement of laws for seafarers in what is a highly deregulated industry where there is functional separation of ownership, operation and regulation. Seafarers’ rights spans international and national laws, and it crosses law disciplines such as maritime, labour, human rights, criminal and environmental law. And there can be conflicts of laws.
“… In the midst of all this activity are the people who work on the ships – approximately 1.5 million seafarers, who face hardship and danger every day to keep our global economy afloat. They live a tough life, working long hours in all weathers, living in confined conditions with limited opportunities for social interaction or relaxation. The work is hard and the level of responsibility is high. Separation from family and loved ones for months at a time is a constant backdrop to a seafarer’s life, and the threat of piracy and shipwreck are at the back of many seafarers’ minds.”
Day of the Seafarer 2014, Message from Koji Sekimizu, secretary general of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
“When 2010 was first proposed as the ‘Year of the Seafarer’, I remarked upon the particular 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, in our uncertain times, exceptional hazards, such as pirate attacks, unwarranted detention and abandonment.
The launch of Seafarers’ Rights International will undoubtedly help those seafarers that are caught up in such circumstances through no fault of their own, by providing a centre dedicated to advancing seafarers’ interests, through research, education and legal training concerning seafarers’ issues.”
Efthimios Mitropoulos, secretary general of the IMO (2003 – 2011)
“Until now, there has been no established forum for research and the dissemination of ideas and information regarding employment law in the area of international maritime transport. SRI will fill this gap.”
Deirdre Fitzpatrick, SRI’s Executive Director.