The Sustainable Shipping Initiative published the “Delivering on Seafarers’ Rights progress” report, reflecting on the twelve months since the launch of the Code of Conduct and self-assessment questionnaire in October 2021.
he report is intended to signpost progress within the industry in respecting seafarers’ rights and welfare, and reflect on areas for further work and improvement.
Led by the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), the report brings together a range of stakeholders to reflect on the current situation for seafarers, look at trends in the data from the RightShip Crew Welfare Tool, and identify areas where further work is needed.
#1 Mission to Seafarers: The pandemic has shone a light on abandonments, which now stand at a record high for the second consecutive year with no let-up in sight.
The Mission to Seafarers delivered food and water to those left with nothing, lobbied shipowners and flag states, and worked with partners to get crews remunerated and repatriated.
However, for all the industry focus on abandonments, crews continue to be exploited with unenforceable contracts, broken promises and false hope, all the while enduring mental torture at theirs and their family’s situation.
The pandemic has reaffirmed our view that seafarers are still misunderstood by the world, and that in most capitals, they remain a low to non-existent priority. As we enter a new postpandemic world it is vital that we remember and protect the seafarers to whom this world owes a significant debt
#2 ITF: ITF welcomes the publication of the Code of Conduct for Delivering on Seafarers’ Rights and is supportive of any meaningful and accountability-based initiative designed to improve seafarers’ rights and welfare.
All actors in the shipping industry have a responsibility to prevent the exploitation of seafarers and to ensure that their internationally recognized human rights are respected
However, it noted that a voluntary standardized tool like this is just a start. The Code of Conduct should be included in charter party agreements, charterers should refuse to work with shipowners who do not meet the standards of the Code of Conduct, while at the same time supporting shipowners in their improvement efforts.
According to the ITF, shipowners and operators should publish their performance on the self-assessment questionnaire, they should set public targets for improvement, and chart their progress. Stakeholder engagement with representative trade unions will be critical to achieve this goal as is ensuring collective bargaining coverage of vessels.
In addition to this, the Code of Conduct and self-assessment should undergo a periodic review to ensure that standards do not deteriorate and to maintain a high level of ambition.
#3 Nautilus: In May 2022 the seafarers’ group, led by Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson, put forward a suite of proposals, in particular, addressing problems that arose during COVID.
Eight amendments were agreed upon, including:
- Seafarers must receive free, good-quality drinking water;
- Seafarers must have access to nutritious, well-balanced meals;
- Seafarers must be provided with social connectivity by shipowners, including internet access, and charges, if any, should be reasonable. Port states should also provide internet access in port;
- Seafarers are entitled to appropriately sized personal protective equipment (PPE);
- Recruitment and placement services must provide seafarers with details of their system of protection and compensation if a shipowner fails to meet its obligations to them;
- States must facilitate the prompt repatriation of abandoned seafarers;
- States must provide medical care for seafarers in need of immediate assistance and facilitate the repatriation of the remains of seafarers who have died on board;
- All deaths of seafarers are to be recorded and reported annually to the ILO, which will publish the relevant data.
#4 Swire Shipping: Swire Shipping completed the Self-Assessment questionnaire in early 2022. The company believes that it treat its crew with the greatest respect that they are due, and this is especially so after the difficult and unforeseen operational and logistical hurdles that all had to surmount the past two years during the Covid pandemic.
For us, the questionnaire provided the benefit of “a second pair of eyes”. In this particular case, the self-assessment questionnaire was compiled with technical expertise both within the shipping sector but crucially also from human rights stakeholders including IHRB, which is concerned with raising human rights standards and bringing attention to the social leg of the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) trial across all sectors
#5 MSC, Coles Group: MSC and theleading Australian supermarket and retailer Coles Group (Coles) have included specific clauses in their commercial contract related to the wellbeing of seafarers with a focus on human rights and modern slavery risks arising from the pandemic.
In addition to this, 2021 saw MSC and Coles embark on a pilot project to track how vessels used to transport Coles’ shipments are implementing human rights-related contractual compliance requirements. This is the first agreement of its kind between MSC and a customer.
Out of more than 200 vessels used for Coles’ shipments across different international trade lines in the contract period, MSC tracked and reported on 842 seafarers on board of the agreed monitored vessels.
Initial results revealed that COVID-19 related challenges remain. In some instances, seafarers’ shore leave was not possible due to different ports’ COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in two seafarers having to stay on board longer than 11 months.
This situation was directly proactively handled by MSC by requesting ad hoc flag states’ permission.
Code of Conduct and self-assessment questionnaire
Following the launch of the Code of Conduct and selfassessment questionnaire in October 2021, we saw a promising initial uptake of the Code, with companies quickly submitting self-assessments via the RightShip Crew Welfare Tool. Although the curve has tapered out now, the number of shipowners, operators and managers, as well as the number of vessels covered, continues to grow.
As of 5 October 2022, submissions cover just under 10% of the ocean-going fleet capacity.
- Bulk carriers make up over 50% of vessels covered, with the second largest group, containers, only making up about 14%.
- Similarly, just under 50% of vessels covered are 0-9 years old, and 77% of vessels are under 14 years old.
- Shipowners, managers and operators who have used the Crew Welfare Tool are predominantly from Asian countries, with a majority of companies using the tool from China (23%), Singapore (15%), Japan (8%), followed by the Marshall Islands (8%).
- When looking at number of vessels, China (28%) and Singapore (18%) remain the top two, followed by Germany (8%) and Japan (7%).
- The average fleet size per company is +/- 30 vessels.
This reflects the reach of the Crew Welfare Tool thus far, which has been impactful, though narrow in scope.