SHIPPING industry bosses are unfairly hiding behind the corporate veil while seafarers are imprisoned simply for doing their jobs, a leading maritime trade unionist has told an industry audience.
Marcel van den Broek, assistant general secretary of Nautilus International, was speaking at a recent seminar organised by the World Maritime University, the International Maritime Organization-funded educational establishment based in the Swedish town of Malmö.
Mr van den Broek highlighted the blame culture that he believes has emerged in the wake of incidents such as the Prestige disaster of 2002, with public opinion making it impossible for politicians not to act.
However, in that instance, it took several weeks to track down the genuine owner of the vessel. Devices such as the emergence one-ship operating companies following the introduction of the US Oil Pollution Act also make it difficult to force shipowners to carry the can.
“The use of flags of convenience, brassplate shell companies, management operations and external agencies has eroded the links between flag state, owner and seafarer. In many cases, crew members have no permanent relationship with their employer and even little or no idea of who they actually work for,” Mr van den Broek charged.
“At the same time, the emphasis on criminal sanctions has progressively increased and, usually, the master and senior officers are in the dock, ironically, often as a consequence of the failings of regulators to police the shipping industry.”
Instead, he accused the authorities of resorting to measures that criminalise the seafarer while actually threatening quality ship operators. Such cases are not confined to countries with questionable political and legal systems, but are also found in democratic countries.
According to Mr van den Broek, another reason that masters are frequently scapegoated is the belief on the part of the authorities that they inextricably linked to the owner, even when this is patently not the case.
“The corporate veils of secrecy that envelope shipping are the stuff of spy stories. The master may never know the true owner. The master is simply an employee like anyone else,” he said.
Yet seafarers sometimes end up taking the rap because other parties – including flag states, classification societies, P&I clubs, shipmanagers, shipyards, cargo owners and insurers – are well beyond reach.
Among the measures Mr van den Broek demanded are safeguards to ensure proper procedures are followed prior to and during arrest, humane treatment during periods of detention, access to legal representation, a fair trial and a proper process of extradition.
Source: Lloyd’s List