Theft and extortion are common experiences, say seafarers

Interviews of seafarers gathered as part of research at Cardiff University have indicated that people working at sea were often faced with demands for cash and provisions when their vessels entered ports.

One seafarer spoke of his crew being forced to resort to food rationing between ports, while another described seeing a supervisor hand over money from his own pocket, fearing a delay to their schedule might cause him to lose his job.

Testimonies included: “There are ports where cigarettes and alcohol are so important that sometimes the pilot boat will refuse to come alongside unless you have a man on the deck waving the cartons for them to take. So that’s a lot of pressure. It causes a lot of discomfort and it causes enough discomfort for grown men to shed tears. We feel powerless. It’s very degrading.”

There were also incidents where vital safety equipment on board was compromised by thefts of brass fittings.

“There are certain ports we go to, where we’ve identified theft is quite high. So, before we arrive, we go around the ship, we remove all those brass fittings so they can’t be taken away. It makes you nervous and worried. We’re trained to deal with fires, but we’re not firefighters, so having the safety critical equipment taken away from you because of pilfering leads to that extra stress”, another seafarer said.

The research was led by Professor Helen Sampson of the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) and have been included in a film to raise awareness of the situation.

Professor Sampson said that “we have reports of port officials engaging in a variety of corrupt practices which include demands for facilitation gifts, theft of provisions, demands for cash payments, theft of brass fittings and equipment and fraud in relation to the supply of bunkers.”

Sampson noted that relatively new company policies aligning with anti-corruption legislation increased the problem for seafarers. “This places them in an unenviable position when they arrive in ports and are met with demands for things, which they cannot provide, from powerful individuals who can arrange for the delay and detention of a ship at considerable cost to their employers. In these circumstances, seafarers fear being blamed, and potentially sacked, by their companies for any negative outcomes arising from their refusal to meet the demands of port personnel. As a result, they may resort to disbursing their own personal cash or ‘raiding’ the welfare funds which are provided for recreational equipment on board”, the professor said.

She hoped that port officials would begin to appreciate that they were not engaged in a victimless crime when they made demands for money and provisions from seafarers, or when they steal from their vessels.

The films, in several languages, have been produced with funding support from Lloyd’s Register Foundation.