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NEWS AND VIEWS APRIL 2008  

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TREATMENT OF SEAFARERS B Y AUTHORITIES

Back in 1994, during hard times, I took a job on a ship in the Arabian Gulf, and travelled to Damam airport. The Saudi government had a reputation for treating seafarers with a complete lack of respect, and sure enough this proved to be the case. I was instructed to stand to one side while the proper passengers were processed. Eventually the arrivals hall was completely  empty and so I was allowed to sit down to await a representative of the agent, without whom I would not be allowed step out side. After several hours he appeared and I was allowed to leave. Saudi rules are that seafarers passing through have to be out of the country in 12 hours, but that is another story!

But of course, Saudi are not alone in treating seafarers like some sort of third class citizens, or potential terrorists, and a correspondent with the Telegraph, the Nautilus magazine has confirmed that the Americans continue to treat seafarers in an inappropriate way, actually just as they have always done, despite the generally greater awareness of the need to generally respect other human beings. His experience was not dissimilar from mine. The ship's master who was the writer of the letter described being held in a line at Houston airport for two hours, including one hour during which the hall was completely empty except for the line of seafarers. Entry into Vietnam takes slightly less time.

This is just a few lines on one of a billion internet pages and in writing about this mistreatment we can't expect to in any way influence the American authorities, but surely it must be up to some-one to take it up, and to attempt to influence them about this and all the other abuses of seafarers human rights which are currently taking place, not in a third world dictatorship, but in what claims to be the greatest democracy in the world.

THE BOURBON DOLPHIN REPORT

On 28th March the long awaited report of the Norwegian Commission of inquiry into the loss of the Bourbon Dolphin was published, and a summary of the accident and the findings can be found in the Features section of this website. During the investigation there were several days of witness testimony after which journalists picked out the bits which fitted in with their theories and wrote relating articles. Websites which encouraged responses from the general public picked up some wild ideas, even including an attack by a giant squid.

The report was announced at a press conference which can be watched in full on the Norwegian Ministry of Justice website. It generally fired broadsides in all directions and everybody involved came in for some criticism, but this is to be expected. There have been failing in virtually everybody's approaches to rig moves for the existence of the process, although things have gradually improved. Most shipmasters who were doing the job in the 1970s would say that they arrived on the location without having the faintest idea of what was likely to be involved, and if they were called into the operator's office it would be a job which was difficult, or maybe impossible. If rig move procedures existed they remain a secret between the rig mover and his employer.

Now that the recommendations are in the public domain, and are being addressed by the IMO, the Norwegian Maritime Directorate all the participants in that particular rig move and in the UK the Marine Safety Forum, it is to be hoped that some good will come out of it all. What none of us would like to see would be more exercises, the intent of which are solely to prove that it was "nothing to do with me", and as a result, unlikely to actually reduce the risk.

Realistically the ISM code does not require risk assessments to be carried out, but it does require seafarers to have the necessary skills to carry out the tasks for which they are employed. The ship-owners need to be realistic and to start to apply themselves to the what is implied by the code, rather than getting enough words in place to pass the next audit.

THE NEFTEGAZ 67

On 24th March the offshore support vessel Neftegaz 67 with a crew of 24 Ukranians and one Chinese sailor was in collision with a bulk carrier off Hong Kong. The ship sank apparently trapping 18 of the crew inside. Rescue efforts were concentrated on attempting to locate survivors within the hull, and by 29th three bodies had been recovered. The event was hardly noticed by the UK press.

This tragedy was not the result of the employment of the ship in  some exotic operation requiring special skills and complex plant, it was the result of the day to day activities of seafarers, making their way between two places carrying cargo, and going about their lawful business. It brings to our attention the fact that collision is still one of the main reasons for the loss of marine craft, and also the fact that many offshore support vessel have to be positively managed in order to give them sufficient buoyancy to survive collision. Of course this might not have been the case with the Neftegaz 67, but according to the local press the ship had been the subject of a number of flag state inspections.

MAERSK CREWING

Maersk have announced that they are to replace the Danish catering staff on their deep sea vessels with "cheaper" crew members, and that this is an economic necessity prompted by the need to compete with the services offered by other ship-owners of other nationalities. Of course, the British in their heyday mostly employed catering crews, and deck crews from India or the Far East, so this approach is not new, but those companies still employed very large crews, officer numbers alone probably equalling complete crews today. In fact we reported last year that the Emma Maersk was intended to operate with a crew of 13. Were some of these the Chief Steward and the catering crew?

Where will it all end. There must come a time when ship-owners cease to cut costs because in the end will they be able to operate safely at all. Years ago the coal mine at Hunterston closed down because it was cheaper to ship the coal from Australia. Was that right? The transport component of most of what is transported across the oceans of the world must already be very small, so it may be time for us as the purchasers of this stuff to pay just a little more, and hence to allow seafarers a little quality of life, which honestly they cannot be said to have now.

Victor Gibson

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