HRAS: Careless Under-reporting of Seafarer’s Struggles

COVID-19: Fact Suppression or Careless Under-reporting of Seafarer’s Struggles?

“I am asking for bad examples and getting absollutely [sic] nothing. All seems to be working ok.” Senior maritime industry executive. 25 March 2020.

“Panic is there onboard as well as at home. In this severe situation we would like to be with our families to support them.”  Seafarer 25 March 2020.

London. UK. CEO David Hammond shares his thoughts and position from recent evidence presented to the charitable NGO for what appears to be an unexplained under-reporting of the detail of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on displaced and abandoned* seafarers (*general ‘abandonment’ not commercial maritime definition), as well as their suffering families.

Hammond challenges the current minimal UN agency, commercial and maritime narrative being publicly disclosed in relation to the actual reality for abandoned and otherwise ‘discarded’ seafarers due to imposed global travel restrictions, especially for those seafarers between contracts and who are part of global crew change-over system. This includes the effects on their families who are often thousands of miles away, while rightly acknowledging the consistent drive by the likes of welfare organisations highlighting the personal costs to seafarers and the ITF union to shore up awareness and support.

Hammond suggests that there is an unnecessary fear of telling the truth thereby potentially causing panic in what could be a long-haul, and not just a quick resolution by Easter 2020. In reality though, it is asserted that people would prefer being told the truth of their predicament, not to be shielded from it.

“It is now time to tell the whole truth, including the good, the bad and the ugly of the ramifications of COVID-19 on the silent heroes who will keep us supplied and alive in this unprecedented global crisis.”

Reporting for seven years without fear or favour, Human Rights at Sea continues to independently highlight the detailed plight of seafarers and fishers working at the front-end keeping our global supply chains open with food on our tables, goods delivered and raw materials for manufacturing industries flowing.

Rightly alongside our respective State emergency services, armed forces and frontline critical care workers, seafarers are our savours for those of us fortunate enough to receive goods delivered by sea during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Meantime, globally, there will be thousands of humans who will not be so lucky to receive such support. Let us not ignore them just because it may be a difficult consideration, or far away from one’s own reality.

The high-levels of eventual casualties of COVID-19, besides those reported throughout Europe and China, will most likely be reflected in those living in the developing world, those trapped in immigration and asylum centres, those in need of UN feeding programmes, those moving on global migratory routes fleeing wars, oppression, sexual servitude, slavery and trafficking, and unaccompanied minors.

In better times, such casualties of circumstance may well have been the focus of corporate social responsibility programmes enhancing commercial image and the ‘ticking of the social welfare box’.

For the maritime sector, such casualties may include crew (and passengers) who are asymptomatic with no reported symptoms but are still contagious, are unlucky enough to become ill ashore, or become ill in an enclosed vessel which is then prevented either temporarily or permanently from gaining port entry, or from obtaining timely-resupply of essential medical supplies and therefore essential succour. 

Arguably, it is not going to be too long before yellow flags are flown on commercial vessels denoting the ship is under quarantine; but who will report this publicly preventing it being hidden behind corporate, or flag State veils? Who will track the consequences for those it affects?

THE CURRENT NARRATIVE

What we are currently seeing portrayed through established media and social media outlets is an unbalanced advancing of the corporate ‘seafarers will not leave their posts’ stoic narrative. But this is not balanced, nor is it entirely correct. Much is going on that is yet unreported.

Meantime, the current public narrative fails to address, in any detail, the very real hardships of the many seafarers who underpin commercial maritime development and its profit. This most probably relates to the inconvenient and uncomfortable truth of the current situation.

That said, not everyone in the industry is towing the party line.

On 25 March, the New York Times issued a telling article ‘Trapped at Sea by Covid-19 Lockdowns, Crew Members Plead for Help‘ which was contributed to by numerous leading maritime industry figures, including the outspoken Mr. Frank Coles, CEO of Hong Kong based Wallem Group who previously has systematically challenged the maritime industry dystopian structures, as well as myself who was separately asked to provide evidence and access to seafarers suffering at the present time. At that time our NGO had been deluged with pleas for help, despite it not being a welfare organisation.

THE REACTION

A response later that day via Whats App from a senior maritime industry leader was astonishing, if not seriously disturbing.

In relation to the NYT article, the first point made was: Quote. “…although probably factual [,] tone does not help. Pisses people off and we have to work with them not to upset them.” Unquote.

So, the facts were correct, but the narrative is making some senior maritime sector figures and their represented entities uneasy and conversations difficult? Good.

Meantime, the individual sending the message was uncomfortable (in their leading role ultimately supporting seafarers), because they were apparently being got at. Really? In comparison, what about the Indian seafarer paying for his hotel in Tunis out of his own pocket without company support having been abandoned and not able to get home to protect his family?

Next. Quote. “Also seafarers are reading that and thing [think] that it is all doom and gloom. I am asking for bad examples and getting absollutely [sic] nothing. All seems to be working ok.” Unquote.

So, a leading maritime industry figure cannot get hold of any ‘bad’ examples through the management chains because the issue is: a) not an issue and a made-up story; or b) is being filtered and watered down by the corporate management chain; or c) means there is a failure by industry representatives to have their finger on the ‘heart-beat’ of front-end suffering . . .

. . . continue reading the article on the Human Rights At Sea (HRAS) website here