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The importance of seafarers and the need to protect crew rights is paramount. Seafarers are unrecognised heroes upon whom the prosperity of millions of people depend and without them world trade would come to an abrupt halt.
Seafarers and the British economy
95% of the weight of British visible trade is carried by sea making merchant shipping vital to the British economy. Figures from the Department for Trade show that some 150,000 merchant ships visit British ports every year bringing us 354 million tonnes of goods and commodities. As the British Chamber of Shipping website claims:
“Without shipping, the import/export of affordable food and goods would not be possible - half the world would starve and the other half would freeze!”
Research from Cardiff University (ITF/SIRC 2007 report Port Based Welfare Services for Seafarers) has detailed the major welfare needs of seafarers in today’s modern age. The main needs identified were:
• Help with making contact with family and loved ones back home
• Transport from the ship to town or a seafarers’ centre
• Personal ship visiting and spiritual support
The rights of seafarers are protected by international law. 2006 saw a significant advance in the field of seafarers’ rights when the International Labour Organisation adopted the Consolidated Maritime Labour Convention. The Convention guarantees fair and decent working conditions for seafarers worldwide. In order to have force in law, it must be ratified by at least 30% of the countries responsible for 30% of world shipping tonnage.
In reality though, it can be difficult for seafarers to claim their rights. They may be reluctant to speak out about abuse for fear of the consequences. Sadly, there are frequent instances of unacceptable working conditions, unfair wages and even violence or sexual abuse against seafarers. It is widely believed among seafarers that complaining leads to blacklisting by manning agents. This effectively prevents them from working at sea again.
The Apostleship of the Sea works with the International Labour Organisation and the International Transport Federation to promote corporate social responsibility, raising awareness of the issues of seafarers and advising how best to safeguard their rights.