Open Letter

23 JUNE 2020

TO: INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORG (IMO)
TO: INTERNATIONAL TRANSPORT FEDERATION (ITF)
TO: INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION (ILO)
TO: INTERNATIONAL SEAFARERS CENTER

news on the bridgeSUBJECT:  PORT AUTHORITIES HARASSMENTS AND ABUSE

Sir/Madam:

I am writing to bring to your attention concerns regarding maritime matters.  I believe I am speaking on behalf of many a thousand seafarers before me, during and after my time at sea.  

The international maritime system in general is sadly exploiting, corrupt and rotten, to say the very least.  I know this is nothing new to you but I am sharing this, perhaps partly to rant and vent, but with high hopes to give you an idea of what is really happening based on my personal experience as a merchant mariner for 32 years.

I am hoping that with this letter, initial steps will be immediately taken.  There is no other forum who could help us but your office.  If you won’t be able to advocate for us (international mariners), then we will be left to a system of malfeasance and widespread extortion.

Below is an itemized list of issues that needs to be addressed:

  • CREW PERSONAL DECLARATION- Inspection authorities had been so meticulous about the crew members’ declaration of personal effects.  These authorities always have the mindset that the crew is into smuggling business.  If they find undeclared items, fine will immediately be imposed and the undeclared items are confiscated.  Their actions are very punitive.
    Firstof all, the items are PERSONAL effects in nature- they are not commercial in quantity, they basically stay on the ship and are not disposed of for profit in any port of call.  If the personal effects are unintentionally not declared in the form, the Inspection Team do not have any right to confiscate neither impose fine on them at all.
    The principal duty of the inspection team is to search the ship for drugs, firearms and other illegal items and to validate the goods being shipped.  They have no business inspecting the crew’s personal belongings unless they have a reasonable cause to do so.
    Solution: Crew Declaration should be presented only upon boarding of the inspection team (check if it is the right group).  It should be handled with utmost confidentiality and should be accessible ONLY to appropriate authorities.  It should not be required to be submitted ahead of time for security and privacy reasons. If personal effects are undeclared in the form, they should not be confiscated, neither fined nor tax should be imposed.  An addendum should be required by the Inspection Team in the original personal effects form to include the undeclared items.If suspicion that there might be illegal items in the personal effects of a particular crew member, inspection can be done ONLY upon the presentation of a valid search warrant or court order which your office should be duly notified too ahead of time.

  • CREW MONEY DECLARATION –Submission of this form is currently required.  If the form is found not in proper order (meaning, every penny not declared), the inspection team threatens to heavily fine the ship.  The crew do not have any way out but to comply.  This matter should be seriously treated as a safety issue at the same time a violation of a person’s privacy rights.  Nobody should be forced to declare their financial status unless duly ordered by the Court.
    Solution: Remove this form from the list of requirements.  Instead, replicate the United State’s Customs cash limit that if an individual is bringing more than $10,000 USD (or equivalent in any currency) on board, a Report of International Transportation of Currency and Monetary Instruments will be submitted.  Those who do not have $10,000 should not be required to declare any of their financials at all.

  • CUSTOMS DECLARATION-This is the quickest way the inspection team extorts money.  Any undeclared spare part, piece of junk, slight difference on estimate of fuel and lube oil declarations, very mundane and petty unintentional miscalculation meant penalty.  The inspection team goes directly to the crew and requires them to pay out from their own savings.
    Solution: Unless the vessel is into the business of transporting scrap, only major/ bulk items are to be declared and often off landing items only.  There is no point of unproductively declaring each piece of junk.

  • EXPIRED MEDICINES – Once the inspection team discovers expired medicines or medications (expired bottles of dextrose) on board, fine is immediately and mercilessly imposed.  The current dilemma for handling expired medicines is that there is no international procedure in place on proper disposal. Ports of call do not accept them.  And, we do not throw them to the sea for obvious reasons to protect the marine life and the environment as a whole.
    Immediate Solution: Expired medicines should be kept together in a box marked EXPIRED and be presented to the Inspection Team during the course of inspection.
    Proposed Solution: Craft international proper disposable procedures for expired medicines on board international commercial vessels.
  • EXPIRATION DATES OF MEAT PRODUCTS – Our food supply is projected to cover three-month consumption.  An internal system is in place to use the old supply first prior to the new replenishment.  If we are penalized for not noting the expiration dates on our meat, then this should be imposed globally to all meat suppliers to indicate expiry dates on meat supply.  Why is the enforcement selective to a number of industries to include us?  

  • FISHING IS PROHIBITED – In Durban and the rest of South Africa, fishing is now prohibited for merchant mariner.  This restriction should be lifted. Crew members should be allowed to fish for their consumption unless a vessel is engaged into commercial fishing.

  • CREW CHANGE – Understanding that the current pandemic has frozen crew change in commercial vessels, it is suggested that your office to proactively strategize how to safely and effectively implement crew change. Negotiate and lobby with countries on how you could safely repatriate mariners.  Repatriation is contingent on the host country’s laws.  Please advocate for us.

  • PORT SECURITY – Every port has its own security rules.  In some countries, however, they don’t conduct sufficient patrols on their borders. Most ships are left alone to be pirated and robbed.  Ironically, this is a syndicated crime done by most government and shipping agents.  It is basically an inside job.  Assigned “security” guards are the informants to the robbers and pirates. Remember, we are unarmed and vulnerable to abuse.  If we retaliate and fight back we get injured or worst get killed.

  • My personal experience in Africa was horrifying.  Somebody, posing as a member of the inspection team, forcefully boarded the vessel and asked for a document, but he was a pirate who was supposingly the group’s advanced party.  We successfully got him out of the vessel but we were terrified knowing that his group will come back for us.  What is much more terrifying is the fact that we are in a foreign country, we cannot trust the authorities and there is no one else to help us.  Must I let you know that the former captain of the ship I am manning now was kidnapped by pirates along with nine other members of his crew?  We are basically helpless.  

  • SOME HEALTH AUTHORITIES’ MODI OPERANDI:
    1. Discreetly bring pest (small roaches) in their pockets and then drop them on the galley area where no crew sees them then declare that the ship is infested. Of course, fines are collectedor the alternative is fumigate the ship with huge charges.
    2. Specifically in India, often their health authorities are very strict on the ship.  It is  a shame to witness how double standard they are in implementing their port rules. To name one, if they found water puddle on deck, fines will be imposed on the premise that the puddle is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Sarcastically, their port is surrounded by puddles of stagnant water.
    3. They fine the ship for not having shore base water test certificate available, which if you ask them to produce their FW supplier they are unable to present a clean water certificate. Lately in Brazil, a woman who claimed she was from Quarantine said that our chlorine levels were high. She was the one who performed the water analysis and misread the chlorine levels. When we sent the correct and accurate reading, she won’t accept it because she already made a decision- a decision to penalize the ship just for the sake to extract money.
    4. In the course of their inspection within our provision chambers, they carry empty bags to put in stuff they like to take home with them. This is very prevalent in Indian ports.

These authorities take advantage of the vulnerability and helplessness of international mariners.   They use their power to abuse, use and bribe any way they can.  Depravity and greed is their lifestyle.   They have no mercy and can do whatever they want and take anything they want because they are just being tolerated and nobody says anything.  These kind of people should be penalized for being corrupt and should be terminated from their jobs.

I know writing this letter is a long shot but I am writing it anyway.  Afterall, I always believe in Edmund Burke’s quote that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

We seafarers, we are essential workers.  We deserve to be treated better.
  
Letter received via DSM Douala
 

 

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