Tag Archives: year of the seafarer

YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | UK cadets forced to take second jobs

Unions estimate up to 10% of officer cadets have to take second jobs to survive

A SIGNIFICANT number of UK officer cadets are so short of money that they are taking second jobs to make ends meet during their training, according to a survey from seafarer union Nautilus International.

A spokesman for the union said the exact figure was not available, but estimated that 5-10% of a sample of 260 volunteered the information without being prompted. That might understate the extent of the phenomenon, as an additional number may not have mentioned the matter.

However, the research found that cadets are generally satisfied with their training and are optimistic about their career prospects, although some clearly take a more cynical view.

The research was designed to expand and update a similar survey carried out ten years ago, and the union intends to use the results to press the case for better terms and conditions with shipowners and training organisation.

The respondents represent around a quarter of all cadets currently in training in Britain and Ireland, and consisted of 25 questions covering such matters as pay, leave, accommodation, travel costs and uniforms.

Among the findings was wide disparity between the salaries on offer to the best paid cadets and the earnings of their less fortunate colleagues, with some support for the idea of a standardised wage.

One cadet wrote: “This creates a tier system amongst cadets and and puts the poorer ones at a disadvantage as they have to fit in other jobs to earn extra money and just to survive, whereas other cadets have no such need to do so.

“That leaves them more time for study and other advantageous activities relating to their training programme.”

Almost 80% of respondents said that the work they undertake at sea while training should be paid in line with the national minimum wage, and three-quarters think their pay should rise in line with officer salary hikes.

There were also complaints that some companies demand up to £3,000 if cadets drop out of their course, and there were a number of complaints about late payment.

Respondents attended ten different training colleagues and institutions. Almost 50% stated the quality of their training as good, while a further 37% described it as adequate and 13% said it was poor.

Another cadet complain about finding himself the only English speaker on a ship. “This is something that can greatly affect your training and experience as a cadet,” he wrote.

“I am aware that I am only on board for tax reasons and am unlikely to be offered a job. It’s a little bit of a morale killer.”

Another commented: “Working at McDonald’s would not have been so much fun, but at least for the last two years I would have been earning the minimum wage and not wasting my time earning a qualification that I will be hard pressed to use in an economically declining world that is growing ever more dependent on cheaper and ever less skilled foreign labourers.”



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YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Chief engineer sues owner

Greece’s Mamidakis group and related interests are targets of a whopping $23m lawsuit in Texas by a Greek chief engineer who accuses the ship’s owners of sacrificing him to US prosecutors as part of a plea-bargain deal to cover up their own deliberate policy of dumping oily waste at sea.

Besides accusing his former employers of setting him up for a fall, Ioannis Mylonakis is claiming that the Mamidakis family, the principals behind the Jetoil-Mamidoil SA group, deceived US authorities about the extent of their wealth and the connections among the legally separate corporate entities that make up their group.

Besides group companies and the vessel itself as an “in rem” defendant, the suit names as personal defendants president Kyriakos Mamidakis, technical director Emmanuel A Mamidakis, general manager Alexandros G Prokopakis and two other board members, Nikolaos Mamidakis and Alexandros N Mamidakis.

Styga Compania Naviera, the Mamidakis-controlled entity that manages the 69,900-dwt products carrier Georgios M (built 1995), admitted in its October 2009 plea agreement to a history of dumping sludge on the high seas, using permanently installed and elaborately concealed equipment for the purpose. In return for its plea, Styga paid a $1.25m fine and agreed to a three-year probationary environmental-compliance inspection programme.

“The agreed fine is disproportionately small considering the magnitude of the actual wealth of the Mamidakis defendants and Helford,” wrote Houston lawyer George Gaitas of Chalos & Co, accusing the group principals of evading responsibility for criminal acts by deceiving the US government about their wealth and the ownership structure of the group. Helford is the one-ship Mamidakis group company that owns the Georgios M.

“Styga… was thereby used as a lightning rod to deflect responsibility from the other defendants,” Gaitas wrote.

In the plea deal, Styga also agreed to assist the government in its prosecution of former employees, mentioning three chief engineers as having personally conducted “magic pipe” operations on the company’s behalf since December 2006.

But in May of this year, a Houston jury acquitted Mylonakis, one of two former chief engineers being tried after Styga pled out. The jury found the testimony of Filipino whistle-blowers less than credible.

Mylonakis had served on the tanker for less than three months before his arrest and his lawyers successfully argued that he never learned of the ship’s pollution-enabling installations beneath the engine-room floor plates and that their concealment made it impossible for him to have discovered them through ordinary due diligence as chief engineer.

Mylonakis had been detained in the US since the original 19 February 2009 call of the tanker at Texas City, Texas.

During that time he had suffered medical problems. His retirement pension and health insurance had lapsed as well, as a result of his not working as a seafarer during the period.

Mylonakis’s lawyers demanded the shipowner’s help with medical treatment but in correspondence that has been released as part of the $23m lawsuit, US lawyers for the owner wrote that “Styga declines Mr Mylonakis’s request for additional benefits over and above the generosity the company has already shown your client to date”.

As illustrations of this generosity, the owner’s Boston lawyer, David Hetzel of Dewey & LeBoeuf, mentioned that Styga had paid its chief engineer’s salary and also “provided him with continuous lodging and maintenance throughout the period of his detention by the US government”.

But Mylonakis’s claims for medical expenses and lost personal income are tiny next to his demands of $14m in other compensatory damages, $7m in punitive damages and $1.5m in civil penalties to the US government, a sum to be split with the plaintiff in such lawsuits.


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YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Officers convicted of drug smuggling in Venezuela

TWO UKRAINIAN officers have been sentenced to nine years in a Venezuelan prison after drug smugglers attached cocaine to their ship’s hull, Fairplay has been told.

B Atlantic captain Volodymyr Ustymenko and second officer Yuriy Datchenko have been detained in Venezuela since the August 2007 discovery of cocaine on the bulker’s hull in Lake Maracaibo. Attorney Aurelio Fernandez of Clyde & Co – who represented the owner in the case and has knowledge of the criminal proceedings – confirmed to Fairplay that the officers have now been sentenced.

Asserting their innocence, Fernandez called the convictions “purely political” and added that “in any other country in the world they would have been acquitted”.

Fernandez said the latest two convictions follow eight-year sentences for two Greek officers of the tanker Astro Saturn. Cocaine was found attached to the Astro Saturn in Puerto La Cruz in November 2008.

Venezuela continues to detain vessels used by drug smugglers. The tanker Aqua has been detained in Lake Maracaibo since February, and the Chinese bulker Jin Yao was arrested this month.

“Any owner that travels to Lake Maracaibo or Venezuela in general, and has the bad luck to have one of these criminal organisations attach a drug device underwater, is at risk of losing the vessel and crew,” warned Fernandez.

“We have to convince the Venezuelan government that the situation has to be reversed, or else we’ll have 10 vessels laid up in Lake Maracaibo and owners won’t want to travel to Venezuela,” he said

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MARITIME | Searching questions over seafarers’ rights to privacy

Steve Matthews | LLOYD’S LIST

A NUMBER of recent events have again highlighted apparent discrimination against seafarers when it comes to their rights in relation to alleged criminal offences, whether as suspects or victims.

Shipping industry organisations as well as seafarers’ trade unions are becoming increasingly vocal about this state of affairs as they face the challenge of attracting young people into seafaring.

The most high-profile example is that of piracy where seafarers, as victims of a crime, appear not to be accorded the same respect or treatment as others might expect in any other context.

Seafarers’ organisations suggest this is ably illustrated by the recent release of pirates apprehended by naval forces during attacks on merchant ships. The reasons given for the pirates not being detained or prosecuted involved the inability to lay charges and mount successful prosecutions. There is growing pressure for such procedural inadequacies to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

But meanwhile, for seafarers, being the victim of a crime onboard a ship is often treated simply an occupational hazard.

And when seafarers are accused of criminal offences such as smuggling or possessing drugs, alcohol and other illegal material, their rights can often appear less than equal with those of other citizens, especially if they are in foreign ports.

A recent court ruling in the US has raised particular concerns about the legal protection that seafarers have onboard ships compared with other citizens.

A US Court of Appeal for the 11th Circuit ruled in May that searching a seafarer’s cabin while in port without a search warrant or reasonable suspicion did not breach his rights. The ruling said: “There are no inspection-free zones on a foreign cargo vessel at the US border. Any expectation of privacy a crew member has in his living quarters is weaker when those quarters are brought to the border of this country.”

European Convention on Human Rights

ARTICLE 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

This recent ruling contrasts with an earlier ruling in another court which said that a search warrant and reasonable suspicion was required to search a passenger’s cabin on a cruiseship in a US port. The Third Circuit court ruled in 2008 in a case where US Customs and Border Protection officers found heroin among personal possessions in a passenger’s cabin. The court said: “The search of private living quarters aboard a ship … must be supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct.” It said that a cruiseship cabin is living quarters. A cruiseship passenger “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his cabin”.

Seen together the two US court decisions imply discrimination against seafarers as their cabins do not seem to be afforded the same protection as a passenger’s cabin. These rulings illustrate the uncertainty about the status of seafarers’ cabins and seafarers’ rights when it comes to searches.

Last year, UK/Dutch seafarers’ union Nautilus issued a warning to its members about a crackdown in the UK and other countries on the contents of seafarers’ computers. It expressed concern that police, customs and immigration officials were mounting a concerted campaign to ‘trawl’ through seafarers’ computers searching for possible illegal or incriminating material.

Searches were reported in UK ports, New Zealand, US, Canada and South Africa with police officers boarding ships to inspect the contents of seafarers’ laptops and mobile phones. “We are disturbed that there appears to be a fairly concerted international drive on such inspections,” a Nautilus spokesman said.

Searches of ships in UK ports in relation to alleged criminal offences can be carried out by police or UK Border Agency officers.

The union sought clarification from the Home Office regarding the powers of police and other agencies to conduct such searches. “We have received some assurances from police and UKBA about the UK inspections and have been given details about the policies and procedures being followed, including a statement that ships are being selected for inspection on a ‘risk assessment’ basis,” the spokesman told Lloyd’s List.

Nautilus officer Chris Jones, covering ports in southern England observed: “Searches of ships by UKBA are routine, especially on ships that arrive with cargoes from Latin American countries and the West Indies. Indecent material is probably not the target on those vessels, but I am not convinced that inspections looking for indecent materials are intelligence led but some are random searches and perhaps by devious means as seafarers may not fully understand what is being said or asked.”

The union said that it continues to seek assurances from various authorities that seafarers are given the fundamental legal rights that they would have if they were shore-based. “We are not seeking to defend the indefensible, but we are profoundly uneasy about the way in which some authorities seem to be trawling through seafarers’ personal effects and also at the way in which intrusion into seafarers’ privacy could serve as yet another disincentive to recruitment and retention.”

The Home Office said to Lloyd’s List: “The search of any vessel within the territorial and internal waters of the United Kingdom plays an important role in securing our borders. UK Border Agency officers have powers as General Customs Officials to board vessels under the Customs & Excise Management Act 1979 and in certain circumstances in international waters under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990.”

In legal terms seafarers enjoy the same rights and protections as anyone else under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

A UK lawyer advised Lloyd’s List that under the UK Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, police have powers to stop and search any person or vehicle, which specifically includes vessels, without a search warrant, provided they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that they will find stolen or prohibited articles.

They do require a search warrant to enter and search premises, which also include vessels, to search for evidence if they have reasonable grounds for believing that there is material of substantial value to an investigation.

These requirements imply that random ‘trawls’ are not lawful. However, they are entitled to seize material found other than related to the suspected offence.

To obtain a search warrant police must specify the premises and satisfy a magistrate that there are reasonable grounds to believing that it is necessary to search those premises. It is not clear if specifying a vessel is sufficient or if it a particular location or cabin must be identified.

Recent anti-terrorism legislation extended police powers to stop and search suspects and their vehicles without the need for reasonable grounds for suspicion. This power could potentially be used to search ships and has similarities with the recent decision in the US. However, a recent case in the European Court of Human Rights found that these powers were a breach of Article 8, regarding an individual’s right to respect for his private and family life, and did not contain sufficient legal safeguards. This means such searches require reasonable suspicion. This ruling applies to all EU member states.

It is therefore doubtful whether a search of a seafarer’s cabin without reasonable grounds for suspicion would be deemed lawful.

A vessel is regarded as private property but it is uncertain whether the master can consent to searches of individual seafarers’ cabins.

Paul Campbell UK Association of Chief Police Officers strategy co-ordinator, maritime planning and operations, commented to Lloyd’s List: “Normally the search would be at the request of, or with the consent of the ship’s owner and/or Master. In those circumstances they would give permission for the search. To the best of my knowledge all spaces on a ship including cabins remain the property of the owner and the Master acts on their authority. In the unlikely event that a shipowner was unco-operative, then it might be prudent to obtain a warrant.”

In Europe, clarifying the uncertain rights of seafarers to privacy in their cabins might require a court challenge under Article 8 of the ECHR and in the US to the Supreme Court, although there is no guarantee they would rule in seafarers’ favour.

Even in the 21st century it seems that whether seafarers’ enjoy some of the basic rights of other citizens as victims or suspects is still a matter for debate.


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LAW | Sea cadet death probe raises jurisdiction concerns

Nautilus calls for detailed investigation into death of cadet who was lost overboard from a Safmarine boxship

Steve Matthews | LLOYD’S LIST

THERE are increasing concerns about investigations into the suspicious death of 19-year-old South African officer cadet Akhona Geveza who was lost overboard from the UK-flagged Safmarine containership Safmarine Kariba on June 24 while the ship was in Croatian waters near Rijeka.

This case once again throws the spotlight on how to ensure the proper investigation of serious crimes onboard ships at sea where various legal jurisdictions are potentially involved.

Officers’ trade union Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson has written to UK secretary of state for transport Phillip Hammond, urging that a proper investigation is undertaken regarding the circumstances surrounding her death.

Ms Geveza was onboard the Safmarine ship as part of an arrangement with South African harbour authority Transnet to provide seagoing opportunities for Transnet cadets. Transnet specifically encourages the recruitment of young South African women as officer trainees.

In particular there are concerns that she had previously made allegations that she was raped by the ship’s Ukrainian chief officer. It has been claimed that other South African cadets have made similar allegations. Safmarine told Lloyd’s List that it “has not received any complaints of sexual harassment taking place onboard its vessels”.

In his letter Mr Dickinson says: “We believe it is particularly important that the UK, as flag state, takes a highly visible leading role in seeking to establish the truth of the allegations and – if true – to ensure that appropriate action is taken.”

It calls on the Department for Transport to do everything possible to secure a full and transparent investigation.

Mr Dickinson has also written to UK Home Secretary Theresa May expressing concern at the lack of information about any criminal enquiries into the allegations. He says it is unclear whether investigations are being carried out by the South African police, the Croatian police, or the British police. An added complication is that the Ukrainian chief officer left the vessel in Port Said, Egypt.

A spokeswoman for Safmarine told Lloyd’s List that investigations into the death are still underway. She said that Safmarine was co-operating with authorities investigating the matter, which include the Croatian police, South African Maritime Safety Authority and the UK Marine Accident and Investigation Branch.

However, Lloyd’s List understands that the MAIB is not actively investigating the incident as it normally defers to any ongoing police investigation, which in this case appears to be in the hands of the Croatian police.

A DfT spokesperson said to Lloyd’s List: “This is a tragic incident and we extend our sympathies to the family of Ms Geveza. This is now the subject of a criminal investigation and we are happy to assist if asked. However, it is not for the DfT to intervene in a police enquiry.”

Lloyd’s List contacted the Croatian police but at the time of going to press they were unable to give any information on the status or progress of the investigation.

A spokesman for the UK Home Office said to Lloyd’s List that British police involvement in such international investigations usually follows a mutual legal assistance request from authorities in other countries, but the Home Office does not confirm or deny whether such requests have been made in individual cases. Lloyd’s List understands that British police are not currently conducting an investigation into this incident.

This uncertainty about how the death is being investigated highlights fears that the various jurisdictions involved could end up with an inadequate investigation taking place into an extremely serious criminal offence.

Nautilus is concerned that the case has important implications for the international maritime industry and especially ensuring equal opportunities as the industry seeks to attract more women seafarers. “There must be no whitewash and no cover-up,” Mr Dickinson said.

The union has tabled a motion, in co-operation with the South African Transport Workers Union, at this week’s International Transport Workers Federation Congress in Mexico City. It expresses concern that “these allegations could damage irreparably the image of shipping as a career choice for young people and especially among young women”.

It calls on the ITF to ensure that Ms Geveza’s family receive justice with a full and open investigation and action concerning all allegations of abuse by Transnet cadets and that any conclusions are implemented quickly. The ITF should “send a message to the shipping industry that the worldwide maritime trade union family will not tolerate this kind of treatment of any seafarer on any ship and redouble its efforts to support the eradication of harassment and bullying at sea and the promotion of mutual respect and equal opportunities in shipping”.

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LAW | US ruling raises crew privacy questions

Decision could have major implications for seafarers’ rights to privacy in their own cabins

By Steve Matthews | LLOYD’S LIST

THE rights of seafarers to privacy in their own cabins onboard ships has been brought into question as a result of a recent court ruling in the US, which appears to deny seafarers the legal protection that other citizens would have in their homes.

Anlgo-Dutch officers’ trade union Nautilus International has raised concerns about the ruling saying that is has major implications for seafarers’ rights to privacy in their own cabins.

The case concerned a seafarer onboard the small 3,382 dwt Panama-flagged containership Rio Miami, which arrived at Miami in April 2008 following a regular voyage from the Dominican Republic.

Officers from the US Customs & Border Protection, part of the Department for Homeland Security, conducted an agricultural re-boarding, checking food waste and garbage and searching for prohibited agricultural material. The search included seafarers’ cabins. In searching the cabin of the El Salvadorean ship’s cook Hilario Alfano-Moncada, the officers found DVDs containing child pornography. He was charged with offences related to that possession and subsequently convicted and sentenced to 87 months imprisonment.

Part of the appeal against conviction and sentence was that the search of his cabin was unlawful and violated his rights under the US Constitution because the officers had no warrant to search the cabin, nor grounds for suspicion that he had committed any offence.

The US Court of Appeal for the 11th Circuit dismissed the appeal. It ruled that “there are no inspection-free zones on a foreign cargo vessel at the US border” and that seafarers’ cabins are not covered by usual protection against unreasonable searches and seizures on the grounds that they could be used to smuggle “contraband or weapons of mass destruction that threaten national security. A crew member’s cabin, like the rest of the ship on which it is located, can and does pose that threat.”

The judgment said: “Any expectation of privacy a crew member has in his living quarters is weaker when those quarters are brought to the border of this country.”

The court ruled that this overrides the fact that a cabin is a seafarer’s home, which would normally lead to an entitlement to protection under the fourth amendment to the US Constitution.

Nautilus has previously raised concerns with the UK government about searches of seafarers’ cabins and particularly their computers onboard ships in UK ports. The union is seeking to clarify the position in the UK in terms of what legal safeguards seafarers when shipboard searches are carried out and that seafarers are entitled to the same legal protection as other citizens.

SafeSeas comments:

Child pornography is indefensible, period. But the fact that one crewmember of one ship had it should not allow one to consider any seafarer a potential criminal.

People on board ships are humans, no less, and are entitled to the same fundamental rights as anybody else — and perhaps some more: they give up a lot to keep the world running.

It is a shame that the United States see ships and crews as threats to their security.

I sincerely hope this does not develop into full-blown argophobia.

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YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Another day in the kangaroo courts

Michael Grey | LLOYD’S LIST

IT WAS my first voyage to Australia and we were alongside in Sydney, preparing to sail northwards to complete the discharge in Brisbane, thence to load in the ports of north Queensland.

“You’ll have a great time in Queensland, mate,” a Sydneyside wharfie assured us. Life, he suggested, was slower and more relaxed on the Tropic of Capricorn. The beer was colder, the girls more beautiful, the Queenslanders hospitality itself.

I suppose he could have been a Queenslander himself, but this parochial view of the state was not to be confirmed by the forthcoming visit, or any other subsequent voyages to this curious place.

It is probably true to say that although we were regular traders into Australian waters, we invariably had more trouble in the north than in any other parts of the Commonwealth. The waterfront unions were more militant, and employed an official called a “vigilante”, whose job it was to come aboard our beautifully turned-out ships and condemn our cargo gear as “unsafe”.

This gave the wharfies an excellent excuse to go ashore and play cards in the shed for a couple of hours, while the chief officer, shaking with rage at this slight, would give orders for all the derrick guys to be renewed or the gangway net doubled up.

They also gave the impression, particularly in the ports of north Queensland, that they didn’t like the Poms very much. It wasn’t that we had thin skins — being a “Pommie bastard” was par for the course around the Australian coast — but you felt they really meant it in this part of “the land of sand and prickly heat”, when it was a bit of a joke in the south.

That was long ago and far away, and most of the coastal centres of Queensland today are large and prosperous, besieged by tourists from Asia, who rush to city resorts such as Cairns to play golf and view 20 ft saltwater crocodiles in aquaria.

Cairns in my day was one street, a wharf and about 15 pubs, full of sweat-soaked, drunken stockmen in enormous hats who had driven cattle across from Arnhem Land and had to be disarmed of their rifles by the local constabulary before they entered the town.

But I was thinking back over the years, and reflecting that Queensland’s attitude to visiting foreign seafarers maybe hadn’t changed that much when reading about the ludicrous committal proceedings in Brisbane, where Bernardino Gonzales Santos and his employer Swire Shipping are to be tried on a series of ridiculous charges resulting from the accident to the Pacific Adventurer in March 2009.

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