Up to a thousand ships flagged to the Cook Islands, Palau, Sierra Leone, and Togo will be targeted for safety, maintenance and seafarer welfare inspections across the Mediterranean Sea in the coming eight weeks by an army of inspectors from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), seafarers’ unions and port authorities.
ccording to ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator Steve Trowsdale, substandard shipping in the Mediterranean Sea is driving down seafarers’ wages and conditions, endangering crew lives, and endangering our environment. The flags in question charge shipowners money to register ships that other countries would not touch. He went on to say that because many of the ships are old and poorly maintained by their owners, they are dangerous and should not be trading.
As explained, the blitz comes off the back of new ITF analysis showing that these four flags together accounted for more than 100 crew abandoned in the last two years, with millions of dollars wages not paid to crew by the flags’ shipowners that the ITF then had to recover on seafarers’ behalf.
ITF informs that in just three years, the Cook Islands, Palau, Sierra Leone, and Togo flags were responsible for:
- 33 cases of crew abandonment, affecting more than a hundred seafarers, leaving many without pay, food, water, or a way to get home.
- Over $5,500,000 USD in unpaid wages cheated from crew, that the ITF then had to recover from the flags’ shipowners on seafarers’ behalf.
- 5,203 deficiencies or detentions issued by European Port State Control enforcement agencies.
The ITF inspectors’ efforts will be bolstered in France by the country’s Port State Control agencies, which are organised regionally, They will be also targeting the four flags. A decision which makes sense given both the Paris and Tokyo MOUs have banned or cautioned against ships bearing the flags from being admitted to the ports of most countries in Europe and Asia-Pacific, respectively.
Seddik Berrama, General Secretary of Algeria’s transport union FNTT and ITF Vice President for the Arab World region, announced that the goal is to expose the substandard shipping examples that are regularly observed in ports. He believes that the abuses experienced by crew onboard are too often ignored by these flags, a strong message must be sent that substandard shipping is unacceptable.
Berrama’s union is not alone in having members concerned about the race to the bottom that Togo, Cook Islands, Palau and Sierra Leone were engaged in across the Mediterranean.