'slave' trade revealed by inquiry
to name and shame worst offenders, write Rob McKay and Sandy Galbraith
in Sydney - Wednesday March 07 2001.
international inquiry has found that life at sea is close to modern 'slavery'
for thousands of today's seafarers. Many die or are injured at sea, but
no one knows the exact number, because proper records are not kept.
International Commission on Shipping (Icons), chaired by former Australian
transport minister Peter Morris, has produced a scathing report that alleges
maltreatment on a scale likely to overshadow anything seen on land in the
"sweat shops" of Asia.
year-long Icons inquiry heard evidence that tens of thousands of seafarers
in 10%-15% of the world's commercial shipping fleet work in slave conditions,
with minimal safety, for long hours for little or no pay and starvation
are even subjected to rape and beatings. The report was immediately dismissed
by Chris Horrocks, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping
(ICS) and the International Shipping Federation (ISF), as a wasted exercise.
are very disappointed, given the huge amount of International Transport
Federation funding for this exercise. A rare opportunity to make constructive
suggestions about the industry has apparently been lost. Even if the full
report contains useful material, it will be difficult to take seriously
an analysis which describes the shipping industry with such emotive terms
as 'slavery'," said Mr Horrocks. The ICS was responding to evidence presented
to the inquiry that told of crew who had disappeared after complaints to
officers and employer practices of blacklisting sailors who had sought
union help in collecting unpaid wages.
the report in Sydney, at the International Symposium on Safer Shipping
in the Apec Region, Mr Morris outlined 43 key recommendations, the most
controversial of which would be the naming and shaming of companies benefiting
from shipboard malpractice.
Morris, who also chaired the groundbreaking Ships of Shame inquiry in Australia
in the early 1990s, said the greatest obscenity was that the beneficiaries
of suffering at sea included some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations
on earth. Appalling practices have continued despite efforts by the majority
of shipping operators, governments and international agencies to curtail
them, he said.
was because cargo owners supported companies using substandard ships.
was time to shame their actions and shut down the infamous operations,
Mr Morris told the conference. Other Icons recommendations include deterrent
financial penalties on owners of detained ships, stricter control of manning
agencies and the prohibition of the practice of blacklisting seafarers.
Morris added that the beneficial owners/operators of vessels that worked
outside the norm were, on average, enjoying a 15%-16% marketing advantage
over companies that operated in a responsible manner. Furthermore, the
commission had been impressed by the almost universal calls for full transparency
across the international shipping industry. There was strong support for
the expansion of the international online data system, Equasis, and the
addition of information on charterers and major cargo owners to its database.
calls for greater transparency extended beyond the corporate veil on shipownership
and commercial operations to include information on crew illnesses, injuries
and fatalities, effective accident and incident investigation procedures
and public reporting of the investigations,declared Mr Morris.
Icons chairman said he believed the recommendations were pragmatic and
the commitment of industry and government interests, he said, the bulk
of them could be progressively implemented within 18 months.
slams industry that condemns thousands to live as 'slaves'
owners bear the brunt as fishing industry, class, flag states and IMO members
find themselves in chairman Peter Morris's firing line.
McKay in Sydney reports.-
March 07 2001
Morris and the International Commission on Shipping could not have been
more blunt in their Inquiry into Ship Safety - they named the report, Ships,
Slaves and Competition.
his chairman's address to the International Symposium on Safer Shipping
in the Apec Region, in Sydney, Mr Morris began by elaborating on the name.
referred to the operations of international shipping. "Slaves" to
the tens of thousands of seafarers, mostly from developing nations, "who
are exploited, abused and ill-treated in pursuit of lower freight rates".
highlighted the unequal struggle between quality shipowners that comply
with international safety requirements, and substandard operators who do
not, and as a result benefit unfairly from setting lower standards and
lower costs .
Icons chairman laid the blame squarely at the feet of cargo owners. "It
is this struggle to satisfy the demands of cargo owners for lower and lower
freight rates that drives the operation of unsafe ships, the inhumane treatment
of seafarers and the destruction of the marine environment," he told
the conference. Allied to them were unscrupulous shipowners.
encouragingly, only make up 10%-15% of the industry but stand to gain 15%-16%
in savings from ignoring safety protocols. But they were not alone. The
list of villains included the fishing industry - which rated an annexe
all of its own - class, flag states, port state control, International
Maritime Organisation member states, those who abuse crews, and, possibly
above these, the lack of transparency in the industry.
obsessive secrecy that dogs shipping was almost universally criticised
by the 400-plus people and organisations Icons took evidence from. Its
causes are historic, of course, and rooted in the light control and lack
of scrutiny the industry has always operated in. But it seems that the
section of the industry willing to talk to Icons – their names revealed
by a body with "no powers to compel or protect" - want to see an end to
calls for greater transparency extended beyond the corporate veil on ship
ownership and commercial operations to include information on crew illnesses,
injuries and fatalities, effective accident and incident investigation
procedures, and public reporting of the investigations," Mr Morris said.
at the moment, delegates, as most of you know, nobody knows how many die
or are injured at sea. If you want to get reported, sink the ship."
noted that such circumstances do not exist elsewhere. "To some it seemed
that sectors of the industry were determined never to learn from the past
errors and accidents - in contrast to the moves towards accountability
in other transport sectors," he said. "In road, rail and air transport
public identification of the causes of crashes and fatalities is the enabling
tool for better designs, better safety standards and safer practices to
took a thorough drubbing at the hands of witnesses. The Icons report stated:
"Classification societies were the most widely criticised bodies in the
course of the commission's inquiries."
their technical strengths were acknowledged and considered necessary by
all parties, the extent of criticism of their commercial relationships
with owners and flag states was noted. This extended to I acs, which was
criticised for not doing enough to eliminate much of shipping's dross,
while holding the power to do so.
from Mr Morris's address, in taking evidence Icons found itself faced with
certain imponderables. Chief of these related to fixing the deficiencies
of flag states. With its professed acceptance and belief that international
problems require international solutions, how does the IMO, hamstrung as
it is by a membership which is averse to giving it the power to act, enforce
flag state performance?
report recognises that the problems of unilateralism and regionalism which
beset the IMO, and which also cause acute concern to the global maritime
community, are of the IMO members' own making. This contributed to the
problems of another area, port state control. These include chaos in procedures
and processes, and lax targeting of ships for inspection, International
Safety Management audits, and International Labour Organisation compliance.
secretary-general William O'Neil was placed in an uncomfortable position
by criticism from his members. Having been given advance warning by Mr
Morris just before the start of the symposium, Mr O'Neil, launched into
a robust defence of IMO's role in putting together a credible STCW white
list and ISM code. Yet the Icons report points to major dissatisfaction
with this aspect of the organisation. So what are the solutions?
intriguing was the call to the Japanese to take a lead in the Asia-Pacific
region. He pointedly quoted the Japanese transport ministry vice-minister
for international affairs, Katsuji Doi, who told a Singapore shipping safety
seminar 12 months ago: "Japan believes all countries should join forces
to create an environment which is hostile towards substandard shipping,
with regions working together to develop conditions in which substandard
shipping is no longer tolerated." Icons has challenged Japan to make a
stand, given its own vulnerability on this front.
is Japan's opportunity to lead this region's eradication of substandard
shipping and ensure its inhuman practices and conditions, in Mr Doi's words,
are simply 'no longer tolerated'." Rewarding quality operators is a recommendation
that is sure to gain ready backing from the industry. As well as greater
Japanese leadership, Icons proposed a host of solutions in an ambitious
wish-list. But as the most humane survey of the state of global shipping,
the group's findings are unlikely to be easily ignored.
if the solutions are as quick and easy to implement as Mr Morris believes,
and if the political will can be harnessed, as Mr Morris is confident it
will be, the maritime world may yet smile at Icons' efforts. The wider
world may do so, too.
Stronger supervision of classification societies by the European Commission
and tougher policy applications by the societies to their clients;
Improved flag state performance;
Tighter port state controls and implementation of reward systems for quality
More rigorous inspections for ISM compliance;
Severe penalties for charterers and major shippers using substandard ships;
Establishment of a confidential ship safety incident reporting system (Coshirs)
- based on aviation's Care system;
Deterrent financial penalties on owners of detained ships;
Reduction of multiple inspections of ships;
Stricter control of manning agencies and prohibition of blacklisting of
Ending the abuse and ill-treatment of seafarers and their families;
Support for abandoned seafarers and seafarer welfare organisations;
Lifting training and qualifications and ending fraudulent practices on
Support for international agencies such as IMO and ILO;
Designation of ports of distress.
Criticism of the performance of classification societies and the failure
of flag states to carry out their responsibilities;
Ill-treatment and underpayment of crew, inconsistencies in port state control,
crew competency, crew availability, fraudulent certificates;
The failure of IMO members to give IMO authorities support in the performance
of their duties;
An almost unanimous call for full transparency of information in the industry;
Criticism of the Convention on Standards of Training Certification and
Watch Keeping white list process;
Passport holders without maritime qualifications;
Non-compliance with ILO conventions;
Horrors of the international fishing industry;