At the meeting of the 66th session of the IMO Council in July 2016, in his closing remarks on the work of the IMO Legal Committee, the IMO Secretary General Mr Kitack Lim stated:
“I would like to point out the strong support given by the [Legal] Committee to the issue of seafarers’ rights. I welcome the fact that the Committee supported the organization of a workshop to consider guidance on implementation of the 2006 Guidelines on Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident. I hope that the Committee will be able to further analyze this problem.
“The issue of seafarers’ rights is constantly high on the agenda of IMO and the Organization will provide all necessary technical assistance to facilitate the wide implementation of the Guidelines to improve the condition of seafarers, taking into account the human rights issues.”
The issue of the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident remains on the agenda of the Legal Committee and the work is ongoing.
The SRI survey on the fair treatment of seafarers
In 2012/2013 SRI conducted a survey of 3480 seafarers of 68 different nationalities to find out how many seafarers had faced criminal charges, and to learn more about seafarers’ experiences if they had faced criminal charges. Seafarers were also specifically asked about their views and suggestions. The findings in the survey raised a number of significant issues and highlighted the frequent lack of due process for those who face criminal charges:
- 8% of seafarers and 24% of masters had faced criminal charges
- 91% of seafarers who had faced criminal charges and who needed interpretation services were not provided interpretation
- 90% did not have legal representation
- 88% did not have their legal rights explained to them
- 80% felt intimidated or threatened.
- 46% said that they would be reluctant to cooperate fully and openly with casualty inquiries and accident investigations
- Overall 81% of seafarers who faced criminal charges did not consider that they had received fair treatment.
- And 85% were concerned about criminalization.
The findings of the survey were presented to the IMO Legal Committee in April 2013 under the auspices of the ITF and the International Federation of Shipmasters Associations (IFSMA). The Legal Committee called on States to continue efforts to promote Guidelines and mandated that the subject should remain on the agenda of the Legal Committee.
In 2013, SRI conducted a further survey of IMO Member States concerning implementation of the Guidelines in national laws. A further paper researched by SRI was presented to the IMO Legal Committee in May 2014 by ITF, IFSMA and the Comite Maritime International (CMI). 26% of States replied to the survey. The replies were in three categories: one group of countries implements the Guidelines by express reference; a second group of countries considers that their existing laws already cover the rights contained in the Guidelines; and a third group of countries requested assistance with implementation of the Guidelines and/or indicated that the Guidelines are still under consideration. The IMO Legal Committee requested analysis of implementing laws and secondly, suggested that States that had requested it should be given technical assistance.
A further paper was presented to the 102nd session of the IMO Legal Committee on 15 April 2015 by ITF, the International Federation of Shipmasters Association (“IFSMA”), Comite Maritime International (“CMI”) and InterManager. The paper contained an analysis of the replies from Member States to the survey circulated by SRI on behalf of ITF and IFSMA concerning the 2006 Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident adopted jointly by the IMO and the ILO. The paper received overwhelming support and the Legal Committee concluded that:
- this was an important issue for seafarers and should consequently be placed on the work programme of the Legal Committee;
- the Committee should consider guidance on the implementation of the Guidelines, in particular for developing countries;
- technical support and assistance should be provided by the Technical Cooperation Committee in order to facilitate the wide implementation of the Guidelines to improve the conditions for seafarers, taking into account human rights issues;
- further consideration should be given regarding the need to remove legislation targeting seafarers and imposing criminal sanctions on them;
- it would be useful for States already giving effect to the Guidelines to provide translated copies of their laws to assist other States with their implementation efforts; and some States informed the Committee that they were ready to share their national legislation giving effect to the Guidelines;
- with regard to the compilation of statistics, it was also relevant to receive feedback from ports;
- States were urged to provide their embassies with the names of persons whom seafarers could contact to report violations of the Guidelines;
- seafarers should be given greater training and awareness of their rights.