Center for Seafarers' Rights Case Study: Self-help Rights for Seafarers

Mar 3, 2017

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq. 
Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights 

A seafarer recently emailed me asking for my help in getting home after his employment contract ended. His problem was that he had completed his contract two months previously and had still not been replaced. His ship’s captain could not tell him when the ship owner would repatriate him from Africa (where his ship was in port) to his home in the Philippines. I explained his rights to him, but he was afraid that if he demanded enforcement of his employment contract, his crewing agency and shipping company would label him a troublemaker and blacklist him from future employment. While I could not give him any assurances about what his crewing agency or shipping company might do, I was confident that his ship’s flag state (Liberia) would take appropriate action against any ship owner who retaliated against a seafarer for lodging a legitimate complaint. 

This is because the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (which came into force in 2013, and has been ratified by 81 countries covering more than 90% of the world’s merchant fleet) empowers seafarers to report violations directly to their flag state authorities while remaining under the protection of the convention. Those flag state authorities must then investigate complaints, and they also must protect seafarers from retaliation. Alternatively, seafarers can report violations to port state authorities, who similarly must conduct an initial investigation and protect the seafarers’ confidentiality 

Of course, these self-help rights are effective only if seafarers know about them and take advantage of them. Many seafarers remain skeptical of whether flag states will protect them from retaliation for reporting offences. 

The seafarer in question, who remained reluctant to demand his rights himself, asked me to intercede on his behalf. The day after I did so, I received the following email from him: “Sir Douglas, I just received my flight details. I’m going home tomorrow sir. Thank you very much...” 

I am confident that after his well-deserved vacation, he will be able to return to work without suffering any retaliation. But, if he does, we at SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights are standing by to help him