CSR to UN: Halt Criminalization of Ship Crews

Monday, June 21, 2004
Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq., the Director of the Seamen's Church Institute's (SCI) Center for Seafarers' Rights, recenlty urged delegates attending the week-long meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to stop coastal states from inflicting punitive measures on crews on ships involved in pollution incidents.

SCI's Center for Seafarers' Rights has been monitoring an increasing number of criminal pollution cases brought by coastal states against ordinary seafarers where no criminal culpability exists. "As coastal states look for someone to blame in pollution cases, ships' crews become conveniently available scapegoats," said Mr. Stevenson. "Coastal states detain and prosecute crews for strict liability crimes, irrespective of any criminal intent."

Criminalization of ships' officers and crews for pollution accidents is counter-productive to marine safety and pollution prevention. These actions discourage crews from participating in casualty investigations. A merchant seafarer could jeopardize his or her rights and risk criminal sanctions by testifying to a casualty investigation. "A pressing question we must consider is: What kind of people do we want to attract to sea-going careers? If we discourage skilled and reliable people from this work, who will operate commercial vessels, and will they have the competence and reliability to keep the oceans safe, clean and secure?," questioned Mr. Stevenson.

Mr. Stevenson challenged the delegates to assert their role in fulfilling the Law of the Sea Convention. "Our economies, our marine resources, our marine environment and our security depend upon merchant mariners, and merchant mariners depend upon the rule of law created by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. Delegates can rise to the challenge. You can assure that the promise of the Convention which began 22 years ago is fulfilled by encouraging adherence to its rule of law," concluded Mr. Stevenson.

SCI's Center for Seafarers' Rights is a worldwide resource for legal research, education, advocacy and assistance on seafarers' rights issues. The Center provides free counseling and referrals to merchant seafarers and seafarers' welfare agencies worldwide. The Center also works to improve national and international laws and practices protecting seafarers and improving maritime safety. CSR participates in IMO meetings, States Parties

to the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention in New York City, and the International Labor Organization in Geneva.

Before joining the Seamen's Church Institute as Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights in 1990, Mr. Stevenson served 20 years as a U.S. Coast Guard Officer, retiring as a Commander. While in the Coast Guard, Mr. Stevenson served in a variety of legal and operational assignments, including command at sea and a diplomatic post at the United States Mission to the United Nations. He is a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy and the University of Miami School of Law.

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