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The Maritime Trades Department Executive Board, at its 2013 winter meetings, lauded the progress of international initiatives that have improved, or to seek to improve, conditions for civilian mariners.

For years, the MTD has worked with the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) on numerous issues, including piracy, flag-of convenience (FOC) vessels and the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.

  • PIRACY:  Fighting piracy, particularly off the coasts of Africa, where it had reached epidemic proportions, has been a priority of both the MTD and ITF. There have been a number of promising signs in the vital battle, although the issue still is of grave concern to the maritime industry.
    A report issued shortly after the first of the year by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau showed that piracy has reached a five-year low.
    Continued vigilance is needed. In December, the crew of the Panamanian-flagged Iceberg 1 was released after being held hostage for nearly three years by Somali pirates. During that time, the pirates subjected the crew to torture, starvation and mutilation.
    That is why the MTD executive board promised to continue its support of the ITF “Save Our Seafarers” campaign, which has done so much to educate the world community about this critical issue.
  • FOC CAMPAIGN:  For decades, the MTD and its affiliates have given unstinting support to the ITF’s FOC campaign, which has sought to highlight loopholes in global maritime laws that have allowed vessel owners, including some Americans, to avoid paying taxes to their homeland and escape the minimum health, safety and environmental standards of their home countries.
    As the MTD statement noted, “Restoring integrity to the maritime industry and to thousands of civilian mariners who often are exploited has never been more important.  Transparency and accountability are essential. Their lack puts international safety at risk.
    “The MTD remains committed to its fight for fair labor standards and safe working conditions for all mariners. The MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils will continue to give strong support to the ITF’s FOC campaign.”
  • ILO CONVENTIONS:  Since its inception, the MTD, working with allies like the ITF, has been active in international forums, including the International Labor Organization (ILO). The department has pushed for the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 (MLC), better known as the Seafarers Bill of Rights, which was ratified last year.
    “It has the potential to make a real difference to all seafarers, regardless of nationality or the flag of the ship on which they serve,” said David Heindel, who serves as both the chair of the ITF Seafarers Section and secretary-treasurer of the SIU, which is an affiliate of the MTD.
    The MTD, ITF and others in the international maritime community still are fighting for the ratification of the Seafarers’ Identity Document Convention (Revised) (No. 185), which calls for nations to use state-of-the art technology to verify the identity of mariners who are issued documents by their home nations. This statement pointed out, “These documents would be audited every five years. They would eliminate the need for visas when taking shore leave for a majority of seafarers.”
    While the U.S. still has not ratified this convention, Canada has. The MTD, its affiliates, its Port Maritime Councils as well as the ITF continue to call for the U.S. government to join their ranks.