The ITF is calling for the immediate release and repatriation of the MV Wakashio 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.
Namely, the ITF and its affiliated seafarers’ unions have “deep concerns” about the treatment of the crew of the MV Wakashio by Mauritian authorities. For this reason, the federation 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
What is more, Mr. Heindel added that while criminal charges against seafarers may be justified, it is important that people have access to justice and are treated fairly.
We believe the treatment experienced by the crew of the Wakashio violates their human rights
After 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, 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 also 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 offence, 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)
Furthermore, Mr. Heindel said that criminalisation takes place when seafarers are charged with offences related to their role at sea or detained in relation to a maritime incident.
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
In addition, ITF believes that seafarers were also a target for local officials who wanted to look effective against drug trafficking.
In fact, in a case this month, Turkish law enforcement officers found 176 kilograms of cocaine hidden across 161 packages inside a container aboard the MSC CAPUCINE R. The authorities arrested the master of the vessel and three deck officers at Iskenderun, Turkey and continue to hold them.
Heindel said the ITF and shipping giant MSC were very concerned about the arrest, without evidence, of the crew of the MSC CAPUCINE R.
Now, seafarers’ unions are pushing back against criminalisation, with the Maritime Union of India (MUI) launching the ‘Service to Stranded Seafarers’ project, developing a database of Indian seafarers being detained overseas.
Moreover, the ITF opposed amendments to immigration laws put forward by the UK which would criminalise seafarers for assisting people facing drowning and danger at sea.
We support the serious concerns being raised by our UK affiliates, Nautilus International and the RMT, about the catch-22 position these changes put British seafarers in. Under this new law, if seafarers save a person seeking asylum from drowning, they face life imprisonment. If they let them drown, then they could face prosecution in every country that has ratified these conventions in addition to carrying the life-long emotional burden of knowing they could have saved a life, but did not
said Mr. Heindel.