What you should do
As a seafarer, there are a number of things you can do to ensure fair treatment if you find yourself in a situation where you are facing criminal charges:
- Try to contact someone you know – ship owner, union officials, local ITF inspectors, the local consul or embassy in the port/flag state or your home state, or the seafarers’ missions in port, your family members
- Do all you can to educate yourself on your rights using information from employers, this website, and the ITF website.
- Ask ‘what is the basis for the investigation?’
- If you don’t speak the local language, ask for an interpreter
- Ask for your rights
- Get legal representation. This is essential for a fair trial. Seek your own through legal aid if your employer can’t provide a lawyer
- Participate in the investigation and be truthful
- Understand your right to not self-incriminate
Your legal rights
Seafarers are recognized as a special category of worker. Given the international nature of the shipping industry and the different jurisdictions within which seafarers may face criminal prosecution, seafarers need special protection when facing criminal prosecution in order to receive fair trials.
For seafarers some of the most important constituent elements of their right to a fair trial are their rights to have free interpretation and translation services; to have their legal rights explained to them; to have legal representation during pre-trial proceedings as well as trial proceedings; and when cooperating in a no-blame investigation to have their communications with the investigators kept confidential.
Where to get help
The ITF has inspectors in ports in countries all around the world. They are officials who can visit the vessels and assist seafarers in the event they are charged. All inspectors can be found on the ITF website. http://www.itfglobal.org/
How to find a lawyer
When choosing a lawyer, you should look for someone who is experienced in the type of legal problem you have, for example, maritime criminal law, if you are facing criminal charges. There should be no conflict of interest, which means that they can not act for you if they are also representing ship owners or other maritime interests in the dispute, as they may not be able to advise you independently.
Seafarers can find lawyers on our app in our legal database, in directories or international guides on websites such as www.legal500.com or www.chambersandpartners.com , or by recommendation from local trade unions, welfare organisations, the local consulate, and friends or family.
- Decide in which country you need a lawyer
- Find a lawyer experienced in the type of legal problem you have
- Check that the lawyer does not have conflict
- Enquire if there is any free legal advice available to you
- Negotiate an acceptable fee arrangement
- Ask to be kept informed throughout the case
- Remember you can change your lawyer if dissatisfied
You can find out more about how to find, engage and pay a lawyer in our Fact File.