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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sahil Puri's research on CRIMINALISATION OF SEAFARERS Part 1


 Capt. Sahil Puri



A nice clear night, good visibility, vessel somewhere in the South China Sea, nearest land 25 nautical miles off, isolated fishing traffic. Master comes up on the bridge around 2300 hrs , checks the chart(s) and the vessel’s position, calculates the track she would cover during the night and checks for any navigational hazards  and other factors so as to fully appraise himself of the situation and when fully satisfied puts down WRITTEN orders which include strict compliance with master’s & company’s standing orders, giving all vessels – especially fishing vessels, a wide berth and to be called in case of any doubt. Wishing duty officer a good watch, the master goes off to sleep …...”       

The above could most certainly be any normal day at sea in the life of a proficient, experienced and law abiding master belonging to any nationality, to any company, on any type of vessel flying the flag of any Maritime State.

“…10 hours later he is incarcerated for involuntary manslaughter. Even as the shock and disbelief of the charges against him baffle his senses, little does he know that for the next 18 months he would be living like a criminal in an alien nation with nothing but a question to haunt him as to what wrong did he do ! ”     


The master of MV Tosa1 had one similar unfortunate experience. And there are many more ….

Criminalization of Seafarers is a very sensitive issue which has highlighted the vulnerability of the seafarers to unfair trials in foreign lands resulting in detention/ imprisonment without even being proven guilty. The trend unfortunately sees seafarers as easy scapegoats after an incident and they continue to be penalised for acts that have nothing to do with criminal negligence.

It is an established fact that shipping industry is facing a manning crisis. There have been several reports estimating the present as well as future shortfall of officers:

        2005 BIMCO/ISF estimate2: officer shortfall at 10,000 rising to 27,000 by 2015
·        2008 Drewry estimate3: officer shortfall at 34,000 against 498,000 total, rising to 83,900 by 2012 .

It is estimated that 90 percent4 of the world trade involves carriage of goods by sea.  

Without international shipping, half the world would freeze and the other half would starve”
                                                 -  Efthimios Mitropoulos, IMO Secretary-General

It goes without saying that if this shortfall of seafarers persists or worsens, it could have serious repercussions.

“Without seafarers, our lives would be unrecognizable. Almost everything you touch was at some point transported by sea. From the alarm clock that wakes you up in the morning, your toothbrush, your TV, your radio, the car you drive, the clothes and shoes you wear, the food you eat, the coffee you drink, the chair you sit on, the toys your children play with. We are all touched by seafarers. And our lives are better because of the sacrifice they make, to bring us those everyday essentials and life’s little luxuries”.
Stephen Cotton, ITF Maritime Coordinator

It is for the same reason that IMO In association with ILO, BIMCO, ICS/ISF, INTERCARGO, INTERTANKO, ITF started a ‘Go To Sea’ campaign5a in November 2008 to attract entrants to the shipping industry. The IMO power point presentation5b as a part of the campaign identified several recruitment and retention issues, based on Life at Sea Survey 2007/8-Seafarer attraction and retention survey report6 conducted by Shiptalk, which are believed to be contributing to this shortfall of seafarers.  

It is only when each of these issues is taken up and studied in detail with reference to the degree of its impact, the urgency to address the same and finding a workable and efficient solution, that this manning crisis can be averted.

Criminalization of Seafarers’ being identified as one of the issues, this research is aimed at addressing the same.

Statement of Problem
"How has the 'Criminalisation of Seafarers' impacted the perception of shipping (sailing) as a career? How can a solution path to this problem be identified? "

As discussed earlier, the shipping industry is facing a manning crisis and there are several factors contributing to the same13. The negative repercussions of this crisis in future cannot be overemphasised.

The maritime industry is the engine of the global economy and seafarers are the fuel that keeps the engine running. It is impossible to overstate the contribution they make to economic stability and growth”.
                                                  -David Heindel, Secretary-Treasurer, SIU, USA

One of the most important factors for any industry to sustain itself and grow is the availability of efficient human resources. To ensure that manpower in adequate ‘Quality and Quantity’ is attracted towards the industry it is imperative that the associated careers are perceived positively i.e. they exhibit a positive image.

IMO has emphasised in its “Go to Sea” Campaign14 that there is an urgent need to improve the image of shipping.

In order to do so one must first analyse the impact that each of the issues has had in deteriorating its image and then aim at providing an efficient and workable solution.  

The aim of this research is to take up one such issue viz. ‘Criminalisation of Seafarers’ and analyse the extent of the impact that it has had on the way the shipping career is perceived by serving seafarers. This would provide an insight into the seriousness of this particular issue and the degree of urgency required to devise an effective solution.

The research also aims to suggest a solution path to deal with this problem, though the efficiency and workability of each of these solutions is a matter of another research.

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