Trade unions from Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine, working with the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation), are releasing a report today*, Monday 25th June, that they hope will help shame governments into action over the shocking condition of shipping on the Black Sea.
The report Black Sea of Shame – which can be seen at www.itfglobal.org/infocentre/pubs.cfm/detail/34854 – is intended to help unions raise the issue with their national governments. Starting today, June 25th the Day of the Seafarer, they plan to sound the alarm over the dire state of affairs in the area, alleging that ancient shipping, rock bottom and unpaid wages, assaults, sinkings and corruption are widespread.
ITF maritime coordinator Steve Cotton commented: “This is a true catalogue of shame. Our inspectors and our member unions are dealing with the human costs of unsafe and ageing shipping, and managements who consider crews a dispensable luxury, to be paid at whim and undeserving of basic protections, including insurance against death and injury.”
“This is the beginning of a long haul, that we know will take years, to reform this scandalous state of affairs. We start by going to governments to persuade them that they can no longer permit these awful conditions – especially with the Maritime Labour Convention soon to provide the kind of model framework to which they should all aspire.”
According to the ITF, Black Sea shipping, which totals around 2, 400 active vessels, is dominated by vessels over 20 years of age – with 800 of them actually over 30 years old. The use of aged, smaller vessels, working well beyond their economic life and moving low value goods, is reflected in serious accidents and repeated abuse of seafarers.
The report, which is the starting point for joint union research into the problem, illustrates this with a number of recent case studies in which ITF inspectors have been involved. These include multiple cases of stranded and abandoned crews, as well as those of the 1977-built, Cambodian-flagged Vera, which sank in February 2012, killing eight. As with the 1971-built, Panama-flagged Ogan Bey, which sank in December 2009 with the loss of four lives, it was registered to a one ship company, with no P&I cover, leaving the dead men’s families with no chance of compensation.
The report concludes that: ‘There would appear to be a high frequency of accidents, groundings and sinking of vessels in the Black Sea. In addition to poor weather conditions and geographical features, this is likely to be due to the proliferation of older vessels operating with substandard conditions. There would appear to be a lack of investment and poor maintenance due to a flawed economic model that does not sustain minimum safety measures.
When accidents do occur there is a recurrent theme of a lack of P&I cover. This combined with ownership structures limited to single vessels registered under brass plate companies in such countries as the Cayman Islands or St. Vincent & Grenadines, to name but two, results in the impossibility of pursuing compensation for loss of life. Thereby the tragedy is multiplied as families are left destitute in the wake of such casualties.
The practice of non-payment or delayed payment of wages is an entrenched feature of the Black Sea maritime industry. Once again the economic model fails to sustain decent living and working conditions. It seems acceptable behaviour of the part of shipowners to manage shortfalls in cash flow by neglecting to pay wages. This shows a total disrespect for basic human rights. In such circumstances the employment relationship is utterly dysfunctional and results in seafarers being forced to go on strike enter into legal claims or in some cases take more extreme measure such as hunger strikes.
The severe impact of a substandard industry on seafarers and their families cannot be underestimated. The intentional non-payment of wages amounts to a situation of bonded labour or slavery and should be unthinkable in the 21st Century. The subsequent insecurity for family life is contradictory to international human rights conventions. On an individual level, such working conditions are deleterious to the physical and mental well-being of seafarers. As the entry into force of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 comes ever closer, the situation in the ‘Black Sea of Shame’ can no longer be tolerated.’
For more details please contact
ITF. Press officer Sam Dawson. Tel: +44 (0)20 7940 9260. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Russia SUR. Irina Ustumenko. Email: email@example.com
Ukraine UMTUF. Maxim Slusarevskiy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*due to technical reasons we couln’t put up this news yesterday 25 June 2012, The Day of the Seafarers.