Modern slavery raises its ugly head in the maritime industry

October 09, 2017
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Maritime Trade Union Nautilus International Highlights Plight of Seafarers in British Waters, With Some Earning Less than $0.85 an Hour

Modern slavery in British waters is “alive and kicking” according to the maritime professionals trade union Nautilus International. The Union has warned of the plight of seafarers working on foreign flagged ships in British waters, who are receiving minimal or no pay and suffering atrocious conditions. The warnings follow figures from the National Crime Agency which found there is an estimated 10,000-13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, with some 300 current policing operations.

Recently, Nautilus International worked to raise awareness of the deplorable conditions seafarers had to suffer onboard a Turkish ship detained in the UK port of Runcorn. The crew, who were being paid wages as low as US$0.85 an hour, had to endure a cockroach infestation onboard with no fresh food and were found to be owed almost US$74,000 in back pay following checks by Nautilus/ITF inspector Tommy Molloy. Nautilus International, which represents 22,000 maritime professionals at sea and ashore, together with the ITF lodged protests with the ship’s Turkish owners and the Panama ship registry over the shocking conditions onboard the 1,596gt general cargo ship Seccadi.

As a result, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the UK Border Force detained the vessel for a number of health and safety violations directly related to the sub-standard conditions onboard. After the expiration of the crew’s leave of stay, they had effectively become illegal workers with no protections and faced deportation. The combined efforts of the Nautilus/ITF Inspector, the MCA and the UK Border Force finally resulted in payment of owed wages and the repatriation of the seafarers to their homes following lengthy prevarication by the vessel’s operator, Voda Shipping of Turkey.

To counter the profiteering at the expense of seafarers, Nautilus International is raising awareness to politicians and the general public with regards to the prevalence of modern slavery in the shipping industry.

The Modern Slavery Act, which came into law in 2015, was introduced to protect those held in slavery or servitude and saw the maximum jail term for traffickers rise from 14 years to life. Despite new powers enabling the Police, the Border Force and the National Crime Agency to board and search vessels, Nautilus has identified the exploitation of individuals, mainly of South and South East Asian origin, and profiteering by certain ship-owners continues.

Nautilus launched its Charter for Jobs at the Union’s UK branch conference in October 2016, a ten point charter calling on the government to level the playing field for seafarers in delivering decent work and training opportunities. Point eight of the charter provides a commitment to lobby the government and industry to apply the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage and the Equality Act to all vessels engaged in UK waters.

In the first win for Nautilus’ charter earlier this year, Scotland’s Transport Minister Humza Yousaf instigated plans to ensure foreign seafarers on Seatruck ferries running to Orkney and Shetland were paid at least the UK minimum wage after the Union found some crew were earning as little as £3.66 an hour.

Nautilus general secretary, Mark Dickinson, commented: “We’re calling on the Government to affirm its commitments in tackling modern slavery in the shipping industry. There is an ‘out of sight and out of mind’ attitude towards conditions in some parts of the industry where seafarers are being exploited, but it won’t come as a surprise to those working in the industry that these practices are happening. Despite the Modern Slavery Act and international legislation, we’re finding that some shipowners are continuing to profiteer at the expense of crew. In many cases, seafarers are disposable, treated as a commodity rather than human beings. They’re being paid cents per hour, when they’re lucky enough to get paid. Twinned with this, we regard the lack of food or repatriation provided is an abhorrent example of slavery in modern day Britain”.

The Nautilus/ITF inspector who boarded the ship, Tommy Molloy comments: “It’s true that not all cases of non-payment of wages will be considered to be modern day slavery. However, when a seafarer has paid USD$5,000 to secure the job in the first place, on USD$250 per month, doesn’t get paid that wage for many months and is abandoned without food, then the connection with modern day slavery is self-evident. In working with the MCA and UK Border Force, we were eventually able to resolve matters for the crew in this case and whenever we discover such situations we will continue to expose them and work with any of the authorities to have them dealt with”.

To view Nautilus International’s Charter for Jobs in full, please visit:

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