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Human Rights at Sea: driving change in 2020 and beyond

In 2020, seafarers have faced more difficulties than ever before. Covid-19 created new repatriation challenges and crew changes were problematic. Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) continued its important work. Today, on World Human Rights Day, David Hammond reflects on the year and looks to 2021. 

The entire maritime supply chain has been impacted by Covid-19, but the most vulnerable members of our industry, our seafarers, have been exposed to unprecedented human rights abuses during this global pandemic. Welfare and civil society organisations have long advocated for change, but this year, we’ve seen more respect and empathy for seafarers coming from businesses.  

According to David Hammond, this is a positive shift, but what’s important is that it lasts. During this year, HRAS has continued to advocate for individual cases where crew injustices have occurred. They have done this through case studies and non-legal representation, communicating with owners, flag states and management companies to shed light on the issues. 

The team continues to review cases and liaise with welfare organisations, but Hammond points out that a significant amount of resources are required to do this successfully. “It’s important to disseminate individual cases to ensure that the true issues are not skewed by corporate narratives designed to protect reputations over seafarers’ deprivations,” Hammond says.  

HRAS’s 2020 impact  

In April, HRAS issued an independent review and international report ‘New Zealand: Under-Funding of Seafarers’ Welfare Services and Poor MLC Compliance’, which highlighted the lack of New Zealand Government support under the MLC 2006 provisions for the running and sustainability of seafarer’s welfare centres.  

On 15 October, HRAS reported that the New Zealand Government had agreed to amend the 1994 Maritime Transport Act as a result of the report and in-country lobbying from the Seafarer’s Welfare Board. This means the existing maritime levy can deliver the services required for seafarer wellbeing, through long-term funding of all seafarer centres. 

In addition, HRAS continues to develop its Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea and has also launched the Human Rights at Sea Arbitration Initiative, with the aim of delivering an arbitration-based process for victims of human rights abuses at sea.    

What does the future hold? 

According to Hammond, as we move into the festive season, many seafarers remain in uncertain situations and still face repatriation challenges. He says crew changes must be increased globally and access to support must be pursued at a state level.  

HRAS also continues to work with several partnerships which mutually support and raise awareness of human rights provisions and protections 

The previous ‘out of sight, out of mind’ or ‘sea blindness’ position in relation to seafarers is now being steadily eroded by more organisations partnering with our charity to raise such issues and profile,” Hammond says. He adds that the recent UN declaration during the Covid-19 stated that the crew change crisis equated to a growing humanitarian disaster. This has been a strong driving force in highlighting the need to protect human, and not just labour rights, for seafarers. 

In 2021, HRAS will finalise the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea, develop its international arbitration work to achieve routes to remediation, increase industry partnerships and raise more core funds. 

Learn more about Human Rights at Sea’s Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea and its Human Rights at Sea Arbitration Initiative

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