International Transport Workers' Federation and Seafarers' Rights International
Workshop on the fair treatment of seafarers, 23 June 2017
Speech by IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is a huge gap today between how little seafarers are recognized and appreciated for the role they play in society – and how much they are relied upon.
Today we all depend on seafarers for most of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Over one million seafarers operate the global shipping fleet – yet they bring both the essentials and the luxuries of life to billions of people. Shipping is essential to the world – but there would be no shipping without seafarers.
Seafarer-related issues have featured in IMO's work for several decades. Because seafarers are ultimately responsible for implementing many of IMO's measures, standards for seafarer training, certification and watchkeeping have been developed and enshrined in the STCW Convention. And a related concern for their welfare, both as employees and as individuals, can be seen in our continuing work on issues such as fatigue, fair treatment and liability and compensation for seafarers – not to mention our annual Day of the Seafarer, celebrated each year on June 25th, when we campaign globally to give wider recognition to seafarers.
Today's workshop is being held as part of the joint organizers' celebrations of the Day of the Seafarer and I think it is both timely and important.
Seafarers are often described as an 'invisible workforce'; and yet when accidents or incidents occur, all too often they become visible for the wrong reasons. In a number of high-profile cases, seafarers have been detained or imprisoned, often facing criminal charges. Being deprived of your liberty and badly treated without having faced trial or being able to respond to the accusations made against you is simply not fair – especially when, as is usually the case, seafarers' actions are dictated by events outside their immediate control.
It was as long ago as 2006 that IMO adopted the Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident – Guidelines developed by a Joint Working Group on the subject with the International Labour Organization.
The Guidelines apply to all instances where seafarers may be detained by public authorities in the event of a maritime accident, defined as "any unforeseen occurrence or physical event connected to the navigation, operations, manoeuvring or handling of ships, which may result in the detention of seafarers."
Guidance is provided to port and coastal States, flag States, seafarer States, shipowners, and seafarers.
Seafarers are recognized as a special category of workers and, given the global nature of the shipping industry and the different jurisdictions that they may be brought into contact with, need special protection, especially in relation to contacts with public authorities. Therefore, the objective of the Guidelines is to ensure that seafarers are treated fairly following a maritime accident and during any investigation and detention by public authorities and that detention is for no longer than necessary.
An accompanying resolution to the Guidelines, which was adopted by the IMO Legal Committee in 2006 and by the International Labour Organization the same year, invites Member Governments to implement the Guidelines as from 1 July 2006.
Since then, the International Transport Workers' Federation and Seafarers' Rights International, our joint organizers today, have developed guidance on how to implement these Guidelines – and a number of countries have incorporated the Guidelines into their national legislation.
This has given seafarers a much-needed level of legal protection that they both need and deserve, and it is my sincere hope that many more countries will follow suit.
During this workshop today, you will have an opportunity to discuss the Guidelines as well as the guidance prepared by ITF and SRI on their implementation. These are important matters, and their impact is felt not at a technical or theoretical level, but at a human level. Seafarers are human, and it is their right – their absolute right – to be treated fairly in all circumstances.
So let me thank the organizers for setting up this workshop, and let me thank all of you for attending. In doing so, you are showing your solidarity with seafarers all over the world and adding your voice to our Day of the Seafarer message for 2017 – which is that "Seafarers Matter".