Apostleship of the Sea port chaplain Roger Stone painted a bleak picture of life onboard for many seafarers, despite the Maritime Labour Convention. Speaking at Maritime Welfare, one of the events during London International Shipping Week: The Big Debate, Rev. Stone, port chaplain for Southampton and the south coast, said he had specifically asked seafarers on all the ships he visited recently about their understanding of the MLC and its purposes.
“At least 80% had to stop and think for sometime. Some of them replied – errm, the Labour Convention. When I said that a copy of the MLC should be on the ship, one Filipino seafarer went to look for it and failed to find it. Not one seafarer I spoke to had read it. Some said it was for officers only. And some officers commented it was actually an additional burden on them because they had to attend training for two or three days in their holidays, and they had to pay for that training.”
Some seafarers had no idea what the MLC was about and others had only a sketchy idea, said Rev. Stone. “Hardly anyone knew it was about welfare, access to welfare facilities or shore leave.”
As ever, he said, the good companies will be doing good things and doing as much as they can to maintain the welfare of their crew on the ship – “and they no doubt enjoy high retention rates as a result and high morale”.
For example, newer ships have recreation rooms, gyms, internet access and wifi, the food is plentiful and varied and snacks are available.
“At the other end of the spectrum – but that doesn’t mean the bottom 5%,because I think it is much higher than 5% – I meet seafarers where conditions on board don’t go anywhere near meeting their cultural requirements – for example, in terms of food.”
In his ship visits, he came across cases where leftover food from the officers’ mess was sent to the crew mess; where some seafarers had to go ashore to buy supplies; where crew were still sharing cabins, against the MLC provisions; and where recreation facilities were ‘woefully inadequate’.
“For example, TV viewing; on many ships where the officers are of one nationality and the crew another, the same TV programmes are being broadcast in both messes in a language the crew don’t understand at all.
“Internet access is increasing on ships but it is very patchy, with wide variations on how much data is made available to crew and some sites blocked. Seafarers on ships without internet access say they suffer increasing stress in their lives because they know others do have access and have the ability to stay in touch with their families. It doesn’t just put a smile on their faces to maintain familial relationships – every week I meet seafarers whose maritial relationships are disintegrating or have disintegrated.”
Rev. Stone said his discussions with seafarers showed ‘large-scale ignorance of MLC provisions and that there is a very long way to go.”