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
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
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.