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Criminalization of Seafarers
Criminalization of seafarers
The seafarers as criminals? What else is new? Almost all the accidents committed by a merchant vessel, especially tankers, will be blamed to its officers and crew. When was the last time the owners got penalized for the errors made by their ships? I heard none. Only those on board are often blamed on the discrepancies of the ship, whether it is an accident or not.
Seafarers on a hot seat
Treating the seafarers as criminals when there’s a violation committed by the ship is a very hot topic, especially in the tanker industry. Representatives in the maritime industry argue that the said move will just make the tanker sector more vulnerable and become a casualty due to the politically-motivated regulation.
Why would an officer be regarded as criminal? The situation will be grim if there will be an accident at sea that leads to an oil spill. The succeeding scenario of being refused access to safe havens or ‘port of refuge’ by many states will soon follow.
Varied reactions were heard by the sailor when he was on board his former tanker assignment in 2008. “It’s unfair,” they commented. “Owners and legislators, treat seafarers as ‘slaves’ not persons equal to them, “they added. “Obey first, before you complain,” some said.
Because seafarers, especially in tanker ships, are posed to be criminalized if they violated the MARPOL (Marine Pollution) 73/78 Convention, monitoring of all the actions of the crew are being implemented by the tanker masters and senior officers.
The sailor experienced that the officer-on-watch at the bridge will be notified first before throwing the food waste in an open sea, conforming to the regulations of MARPOL. More and more trainings are being conducted on board the ship to ensure the safety of the ship.
Even if the seafarer passed the psychological test, the situation on board ship will test his sanity. In 2005, the chief engineer of a bulker Celine took his life after a routine Port State Control inspection in New London, Connecticut, USA. The incident transpired when the chief engineer was questioned about the oily water separator equipment on board the vessel that led to criminal investigation in which a hard drive on one of the ship’s computer was seized by the US Coast Guard and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) was called in.
The routine inspection of US Coast Guard on board ship involves the isolation of all the officers and crew (usually in ship’s saloon) before undertaking the inspection in ship’s cabins, deck, engine and the remaining nooks and crannies of the ship. They usually for drugs, other contraband, stowaways and the violation on oil spill.
It is noted by the seafarers going to the US waters, that the ship’s inspection is thoroughly conducted while in South America, there is leniency in the procedure. The sailor asked the loading inspector in Venezuela. He answered, “We treat seafarers here as humans, not a suspected criminals.” So, there.
Wanted: Safe tanker operations
With all the paper works and this added challenge, some officers cannot finish their contracts due to the added load in their responsibilities. The sailor heard one officer said: “I’m here to earn money for my family, not to be enslave by the system.” he just spent a week on board ship then went home.
More and more tanker officers are transferring to either cargo or passenger vessels because there are less pressure and less responsibilities to watch for.
‘Oil should travel first class’ but the politically-laden legislation will suppress the seafarers to perform their duties honestly when crisis comes.
Clearing the bad image
Every seafarer has his/her own important role in the maritime industry. Year 2010 is declared by the International Maritime Organization to be the Year of the Seafarer.
This will not only promote the efficiency of these people. The sailor assures that his league will be vindicated because there are good things being contributed by seafarers around the world.
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