HRAS Urges IMO to Increase Transparency in Reporting of Seafarer Abuse

crew change and seafarer rights
IMO headquarters (file photo)

Published Aug 31, 2021 2:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK-based charity Human Rights at Sea is calling on the International Maritime Organization to increase its level of transparency in reporting cases reflecting human and labor rights abuse of seafarers. The call is part of the maritime industry’s continued efforts to highlight the challenges facing seafarers ranging from difficult and unreasonable working conditions to the persisting challenges brought on by the pandemic.

DNV Maritime’s Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen used his remarks in an update to the media to point out that the crew change crisis “rumbles on” more than 16 months after the industry sought to call attention to the impact on COVID-19 related travel restrictions on seafarers. Highlighting that DNV believes there are at least 90,000 seafarers still unable to come ashore, Ørbeck-Nilssen highlighted the continuing need to recognize seafarers as key workers and the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations for seafarers.

“Seventy percent of member states have still not signed up to the IMO’s circular designating seafarers as key workers,” said Ørbeck-Nilssen. He went on to highlight the slower than average pace at getting vaccinations for seafarers in the global drive against COVID-19. “Only 15 percent of the world’s seafarers have been fully vaccinated compared to approximately 25 percent of the global population.”

The NGO Human Rights at Sea is also seeking to highlight the continuing welfare issues for seafarers highlighting to the IMO the charity’s continuous drive for greater public transparency to provide accurate levels and sources of abuse within the shipping industry. They are calling for an objective and fact-based approach to highlight these issues.

“The change being requested is needed to address the perception that ‘protectionist blue-washing is occurring’ in relation to those entities involved in sub-standard, manipulative, and/or unlawful activities affecting crew and their families,” said the NGO in its public statement. 

The charity contends that the IMO does not appear to help itself by the vagueness in its current reporting style. HRAS questions why the IMO takes the approach it does to reporting calling on the organization to “identify entities by name who are factually known to be involved in cases of proven abuse be they human or labor rights’ failures ashore or at sea.” HRAS contends that if there is little, to no deterrent effect in the current public reporting system, the perception is that irresponsible entities cut deals, look the other way, and look after their own.

IMO representative, Natasha Brown, responded to HRAS saying “We have decided not to engage in ‘name and shame,’ and instead, we have found that the more successful approach is to engage with the countries at the diplomatic level, forge solutions and then report these as examples for others to follow. This is not about hiding anything; we’re trying to use methods that provide the best chance for solutions.”