ITF warns that criminalization of seafarers is on the rise

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has expressed “deep concerns” that seafarers have become the easy target for local authorities after a marine incident, even if they might not be at all to blame for the event.

It noted that the crew of the MV Wakashio has been held by Mauritian authorities for more than a year following the grounding of the ship and the widespread pollution that followed.

At the end of July the ITF called for the immediate release and repatriation of the crew. ITF Seafarers’ Section chairman David Heindel said that the ITF and its affiliated seafarers’ unions held “deep concerns” about the treatment of the crew by the Mauritian authorities. He said that the ITF recently wrote to Mauritius president Prithvirajsing Roopun, appealing for the legal proceedings against the crew members to be advanced and for the expeditious conclusion of the now-year-long saga faced by the crew.  Heindel and ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton appealed to Mauritian authorities to consider the human cost of the delayed legal proceedings and the impact of the unnecessary detention on the crew and their families

The ITF has said that the treatment of the Wakashio crew has been part of “what appears to be an example of criminalization of seafarers”. The ITF said that this was “one of the most serious problems facing seafarers today, and it seems to be on the rise”.

The ITF also noted that the crew of ULCV Ever Given were detained on the vessel for several months while it was held in the Great Bitter Lakes by the Suez Canal Authority. “Whether it is felt by the crew of the Wakashio who were effectively detained without charge, or the drawn-out threat of criminal charges against the Ever Given crew to bolster the Suez Canal Authority’s negotiating position over damages: seafarers are being cynically targeted all over the world by officials just for doing our jobs,” said Heindel.

The ITF also cited the case of the crew of bulk carrier UBC Savannah, who were arrested in Mexico and held without charge in what the ITF described as “poor” conditions after cocaine was found in the vessel’s cargo hold dispersed across 227 packages. Most the crew were released shortly after their arrest in 2019, but the Polish captain, Andrzej Lasota, was held until March 2021. Mexican authorities were said by the ITF to have claimed that Lasota had been negligent in “failing to be aware that the ship he commanded may have been carrying prohibitive substances”. The ITF noted that, as soon as the packages were found, Lasota had ordered an immediate halt to all cargo operations and had notified the relevant authorities.