Unions Take Action On ‘Sea Of Shame’

By Joseph R. Fonseca
Monday, May 26, 2014

The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and its affiliated unions are launching a week of action today from ports on the Black Sea to combat what an updated report from the organisation finds are still shocking levels of crew abuse and unseaworthy vessels there.

Two years after the ITF and its unions in Black Sea countries launched an intensive campaign to expose these shameful conditions (see http://bit.ly/1ojQpj6), it remains one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a seafarer. This week of action is the latest step in the campaign to publicise and improve that disgraceful situation. Joint teams of ITF inspectors and union activists in Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine will use it to inspect ships, inform seafarers of their rights – particularly under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) – and highlight the need for drastic action by littoral state governments.
 
ITF maritime coordinator Tomas Abrahamsson commented: “Any honest observer will find themselves appalled by the low standards in this region. The state of some of these vessels and the abominable working conditions on them almost defy description.
 
“Unions are actively battling these conditions and, even in the face of current political events, they are focusing as usual on the interests of workers. There is, though, a crying need for genuine governmental action. There have been some encouraging detentions by port state control in Bulgaria and Russia but much more needs to be done.”
 
The desperate need for action is underlined by an updated version of the report Black Sea of Shame, which has been prepared in conjunction with this action week. 
 
It is attached and also available at http://bit.ly/1nj890P and updates the original 2012 report, which can be found at bit.ly/1gnftp1
 
The introduction to the new report states:
In June 2012 ITF affiliated unions compiled the ‘Black Sea of Shame’ report to highlight the frequency of serious accidents and the poor living and working conditions endured by seafarers on vessels trading in the Black Sea area.
 
Since then, the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) entered into force on 20 August 2013 and is now in force in two countries in the region: Bulgaria (ratified 12 April 2010) and Russia (ratified 20 August 2012). Thus far however, a significant impact of the MLC has yet to be felt. The region is still a haven for older vessels with inadequate insurance operated by owners with scant regard for obligations to their crew. In addition political instability and a lack of political will make it difficult to develop robust national legislation and mechanisms to ensure effective implementation of internationally accepted standards. The five ITF inspectors in the region based in the ports of Batumi, Constanta, Istanbul, Novorossiysk and Odessa continue to handle multiple cases of non-payment of wages, noncompliance with international standards, poor living and working conditions, and on occasion, abandonment and loss of life. This update collects together examples of cases that would indicate that much more work is needed before the region can shake off the ignominious title of ‘Black Sea of Shame’.
 
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