19 June 2013 – ITF seafarers’section chair Dave Heindel has echoed the Global Unions’ call to the G8 meeting to put fairness at the heart of their economies and added a plea for the same principles to be applied to the maritime world.
He stated: “The Global Unions’ statement to the G8 Lough Erne Summit makes a number of important points and valuable suggestions, particularly on the subjects of taxation and transparency.
“Unfortunately, we in the maritime industry are very familiar with the pitfalls of tax avoidance, offshore tax havens and meticulously planned lack of accountability on the parts of some companies. Specifically, the so-called flag of convenience (FOC) system which for decades has facilitated abuse of maritime workers through those avenues.
“For those who don’t know the system, it is one in which a vessel flies a flag different from that of its owner’s country. Quite often, FOC ships also carry multinational crews supplied by agents from yet another foreign country. It’s a tricky system that has been in place for decades, and it often allows owners and operators to turn a short-term profit while crew members suffer all sorts of mistreatment. That abuse ranges from being underpaid or not paid at all, to being blackmailed into paying for jobs, to sailing on vessels that are so unsafe, they literally may cost the seafarers their lives. And lest anyone think that this isn’t all about avoidance, know that FOC ships routinely change names and registries, sometimes while in mid-voyage.
“The lack of transparency and accountability in the FOC system is nothing short of appalling. A litany of incidents has repeatedly proven that when it’s time for negligent shipowners and operators to pay for their liabilities, nothing is simple. If a ship flies the flag of Panama, is crewed by a Greek manning agent, has ownership in Cyprus, and carries a crew of Russians, Filipinos and Indians, who’s responsible for an accident? Who can enforce basic minimum standards for shipboard safety, rest, sanitation, etc.?
“To cite just one example, Britain’s Maritime Investigation Branch recently completed a comprehensive study of the sinking of the FOC vessel Swanland. It proved that the ship hadn’t been properly maintained and was severely weakened by corrosion. Six mariners lost their lives because people behind desks shirked their responsibilities while pursuing greater profits.”
He concluded: “Collectively, we can and must do better. The observations and recommendations raised by the Global Unions organization are excellent starting points, and the ITF is ready, willing and able to help.
The global unions statement to G8 can be seen at www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/13-tuacdoc-g8en-11juin.pdf.