Consular Corps of London
Seminar on the Abandonment of Seafarers, 22 June 2017
Opening speech by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization
Ladies and gentlemen,
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 fleet –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.
The role seafarers play in society today is a forgotten aspect of modern life. The gap between how little seafarers are recognized and appreciated and how much they are relied on is as wide as the oceans they sail upon. However, I would like to think that IMO is working for this not to be the case.
Seafarer-related issues constitute a continuing thread that has run through IMO's work for several decades. On the one hand, the clear understanding that seafarers are ultimately responsible for implementing many of IMO's measures led to standards for seafarer training, certification and watchkeeping being developed and enshrined in the STCW Convention. And, on the other hand, a related concern for their welfare, both as employees and as individuals, is evident 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.
The specific focus of today's seminar is abandoned seafarers – and the things we have done and can do in the future to help them. There will be a lot of detail about those aspects in the presentations to come.
But let's step back for a moment. Why do seafarers become abandoned? And by whom? In many cases – in most cases – seafarers are abandoned as a result of a deliberate and calculated decision by a shipowner. The shipowner may be facing bankruptcy, insolvency or the arrest of a vessel by creditors. Or they may find their vessel is deemed unseaworthy and detained by Port State Control Officers – and instead of fixing the problem they find it cheaper and easier just to walk away.
Whatever the reason, the people who bear the brunt of this are the seafarers. It's not just a lump of inanimate steel that gets left high and dry – abandonment affects real people, often leaving them in a desperate plight.
Just imagine: the fuel for the ship's generators runs out, so there's no more lighting, heating, air conditioning or power for cooking. Fresh water needs to be bought from ashore but the shipowner isn't paying bills and your salary has also run dry. Food also stops being supplied. You can't wash your clothes properly; your health suffers, and being cooped up with fellow crewmates for long periods leads to unrest and frictions. Worst of all, you miss your loved ones; but you can't easily contact them to let them know how you are.
It's a desperate situation which no-one deserves to be placed in. So what is being done to address it? For many years, this has been a frustrating and difficult problem. But there are signs of change – and change for the better. Let me mention just a couple of examples.
As you will hear in great detail throughout the course of today's seminar, IMO and ILO – the International Labour Organization – participate in the so-called Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on Liability and Compensation Regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers. In 2002, this Group decided that a database on incidents of abandonment of seafarers should be established and maintained by ILO and IMO so that the problem could be monitored in a transparent and informed manner.
With the support of the International Shipsuppliers & Services Association, the database was established and went operational on 1 April 2005. All cases reported after 1 January 2004 have been recorded in this database.
However, late in 2016 concerns were expressed, by both the industry and the media, that there were abandonment cases that had not been reported; and that some information in the database was not current. Since then, IMO, along with ILO, the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers' Federation have been working hard to address these matters and, as was reported to the IMO Legal Committee earlier this year, this important database has now been updated.
In January this year, I was delighted to welcome the entry into force of new obligations under the Maritime Labour Conventionwhich require shipowners to have compulsory insurance to cover abandonment of seafarers, as well as claims for death or long-term disability of seafarers.
The 2014 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, which comes under the auspices of the ILO, are based on guidelines developed by the Joint IMO/ILO Working Group. They provide better protection for seafarers and their families, and are the fruit of successful collaboration between IMO and ILO to ensure better working conditions and better protection should things go wrong.
Given the global nature of the shipping industry and the different jurisdictions with which they may be brought into contact, they need special protection, especially in relation to contact with public authorities. This is where your consular services may be much needed.
I think that is the key message I would like to leave you with at the beginning of this busy seminar. Seafarer abandonment is a serious problem that can blight the lives of those caught up in it. We simply must tackle it. And if we are going to do this successfully, it will need continual cooperation, not just between IMO and ILO but with flag States, port States and shipowner groups too. We have a human duty to protect seafarers, and we must not hide from it.