The ITF is calling for the immediate release and repatriation of the MV Wakashio (IMO: 9337119) crew who have been held by Mauritian authorities now for over a year.
“This week marks the one year anniversary of the grounding of the MV Wakashio and the environmental catastrophe associated with it. This week also marks one year since the Mauritian authorities have held members of the crew and prevented them from leaving the Republic, most have been effectively detained without charge,” said David Heindel, ITF Seafarers’ Section chair.
ITF Seafarers’ Section chair David Heindel said criminalization of seafarers was on the rise, but seafarers’ unions were pushing back against new laws that would put seafarers behind bars for life if they saved people from drowning at sea. (Credit: ITF)
Heindel said the ITF and its affiliated seafarers’ unions have “deep concerns” about the treatment of the crew of the MV Wakashio by Mauritian authorities. He said the federation last week wrote to the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Mr. Prithvirajsing Roopun. In their letter, the ITF appealed for Mr. Roopun’s support to see legal proceedings advanced and the expeditious conclusion of the now-year-long saga faced by the crew.
“The ITF supports thorough, independent investigations of the factors relating to any maritime incident, including those that may have affected the grounding of the MV Wakashio. In this instance, we are concerned about the lack of appropriate legal proceedings taking place regarding the Wakashio crew.”
“While, in a particular context, criminal charges against seafarers may be justified, it is important that people have access to justice and are treated fairly. Access to justice and fair treatment by the authorities are fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We believe the treatment experienced by the crew of the Wakashio violates their human rights,” said Heindel.
Following the grounding of the MV Wakashio, Captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and Chief Officer Tilakaratna Subodha were arrested by Mauritian authorities. On 18 August 2020, they were charged with endangering safe navigation. The pair have been detained in prison since their arrest and have been denied bail. Most of the remainder of the crew have been detained under “house arrest” and kept in a local hotel, seemingly on the grounds that they may be required to appear as witnesses in a trial that has yet to commence.
In the ITF’s letter, Heindel and ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton appealed to Mauritian authorities to consider the human cost that delayed proceedings and unnecessary detention would have on the crew and their families:
“At present, the majority of the Wakashio in the care of your courts have not been charged with any offense, yet they are still not free to leave Mauritius. As a consequence, some of these seafarers have not seen their families for more than two years. This is because, prior to the maritime accident in July last year, some of the crew had already been on board the vessel in excess of 12 months – beyond the legal limit set by the Maritime Labour Convention (2006, as amended).
“Two years is too long to be away from loved ones. The crew’s ongoing detention adds to the stress of their families many of whom are battling the present pandemic and its economic effects, without the support and presence of their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. The families want them to come home.
We ask that you do all that is within your power and influence to bring this saga to an expeditious conclusion, for the sake of the seafarers – and for the Republic’s reputation as an upholder of human rights.”
– ITF letter to President of the Republic of Mauritius, His Excellency Mr. Prithvirajsing Roopun G.C.S.K, signed ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton and ITF Seafarers’
Criminalization of seafarers is on the rise
Heindel said that while the Wakashio accident was “deeply unfortunate”, with the ITF sharing concerns about the impact of the accident on the ocean environment; the federation could “stand by and allow what appears to be an example of the criminalization of seafarers”.
Heindel said criminalization takes place when seafarers are charged with offences related to their role at sea or detained in relation to a maritime incident. It is an issue with a rising profile at both the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“Criminalisation of seafarers is on the rise. Whether it is felt by the crew of the Wakashio who were effectively detained without charge, or the drawn-out threat of criminal charges against the Ever Given crew to bolster the Suez Canal Authority’s negotiating position over damages: seafarers are being cynically targeted all over the world by officials just for doing our jobs,” said Heindel.
“We know that seafarers are seen by some officials as convenient bargaining chips in efforts to hold shipowners to account for maritime accidents caused by issues like a lack of maintenance. This is especially the case when a state finds it difficult to locate and prosecute irresponsible shipowners who too often hide behind the Flag of Convenience system.”
“But the solution to irresponsible shipowners ducking accountability for maritime accidents is not to hold seafarers hostage, but rather to reform the Flag of Convenience system and abolish the secrecy protections which allow anonymity and evasion,” said Heindel.