ISWAN Review of The Year

December 23, 2013

Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, reviews the year.

As the end of the year approaches, it is a good time to look back over the past year. 2013 has been an eventful time for ISWAN. We formally launched the new organisation on 1 April. ISWAN is the result of a merger between the International Committee on Seafarers Welfare (ICSW) and the International Seafarers Assistance Network (ISAN). ISWAN's main role is to promote the welfare of seafarers worldwide and also to run welfare services for seafarers such as the 24 hour free helpline, SeafarerHelp. ISWAN also provides health information for seafarers as well as running projects in support of frontline welfare organisations. During the year we also recruited a new Chairman, Per Gullestrup of the Clipper Group. ISWAN is looking forward to working with Per in the years ahead.

ISWAN is a membership organisation and this year we welcomed into membership Shell Ship Management, Wrist Ship Supply, Nautilus International, AMOSUP, Kandla Seafarers Welfare Association, Odessa Port Welfare Committee, Garrets, and Port of Miami Seafarers Centre. We still need to recruit more members – if your organisation is interested in joining then please contact me here.

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In 2013 SeafarerHelp, the free and confidential helpline for seafarers and their families experienced a 25% increase in the number of cases. Part of the increase was due to heightened awareness of the service by seafarers through targeted marketing on facebook (we have achieved over 30,000 likes!) and free advertisements in Newslink, which goes to 10,000 ships. SeafarerHelp still receives a large proportion of calls on unpaid wages, repatriation, and contracts which are mainly referred on to specialist agencies.

A significant development for seafarers' welfare has been the coming into force of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) in August. Fifty three countries have now ratified it and we look forward to two major maritime countries, USA and China, ratifying the MLC in 2014. The MLC has already had an impact with ships being detained and seafarers becoming more aware of the terms of the convention that affects their contracts, hours of work, and recruitment. During the year more port welfare committees were set up including one in the major port of Odessa in the Ukraine. We will work with governments, port authorities, shipping companies, unions, welfare organisations, and others to help set up more port welfare committee and national welfare boards in 2014.

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Earlier this year we published a research report and held a seminar on Port Levies and Seafarers' Welfare. Both the report and seminar were well received and we are planning on holding another seminar on port levies in the USA in March 2014. Funding for seafarers welfare is scarce and while port levies are not a panacea, they provide a regular source of income for hard pressed seafarer centres and welfare workers. A key to their adoption is the visibility and quality of welfare services and facilities in ports. Ship owners are more likely to be favourably disposed to port levies for welfare if they can see the funds being well used by seafarer welfare organisations.

An article on seafarers and communications published on our website in October gained a lot of interest. It called for more action to be taken on giving seafarers cheaper or free access to communications in port and at sea. We know that communication back home is the number one welfare issue for seafarers. In 2014 we will continue to advocate with partners and others for greater communications access, particularly to the internet, for seafarers.

This year we launched the 2014 International Seafarers' Welfare Awards. The awards event will be held in Geneva at the International Labour Organisation on 7 April. The awards will be presented by Mr Guy Ryder, the Director Genral of the ILO.

One of the more positive stories of the year is the reductions in the number of pirate attacks and holding of hostages off Somalia. However, we must not forget the seafarers and others still being held by Somali pirates, some for more than two years. We also must work together to ensure that piracy and robbery in reduced in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. ISWAN will continue to work closely with the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Project (MPHRP) in 2014 to make sure seafarers and their families affected by piracy receive support and aftercare.

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Just over a month ago, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and left a trail of death and destruction. To date, 6,100 people are known to have been killed while nearly 2,000 are still missing. It is estimated that as many as 180,000 Filipino seafarers have been affected the typhoon and its aftermath. The shipping industry responded quickly and provided money and assistance. ISWAN helped to play a co-ordinating role and raised funds to provide free phone calls for Filipino seafarers. Relief and reconstruction efforts are still continuing and will do so for several years. As the world's spotlight moves from the typhoon affected areas we need to remember the people of the Philippines who are mourning their loved ones and trying to rebuild their lives. They will still need our support - you can donate here to our appeal.

The year ahead holds many challenges. There will be continued pressure on funding for seafarers welfare with seafarer centres and welfare workers being stretched to meet the demands for their services from seafarers. We still need to look at how we can practically use the MLC to improve the welfare of seafarers. We also need to work together more closely, both within the seafarer welfare sector and with other partners in the maritime industry.

I would like to thank all of our members, funders, and partners for the support they have given to ISWAN in 2013. I look forward to their continued support in 2014.

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We are grateful to our main funders for their continued support: