The captain of the M/V Rena, whose identity is being witheld, appeared before a Tauranga court in December and later plead guilty to charges under Section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act for "operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk" and under the Resource Management Act relating to the "discharge of harmful substances from ships or offshore installations."

Seafarers facing criminal charges are often treated unfairly and lack legal representation, according to an industry survey conducted by the international legal research center Seafarers’ Right International (SRI).

The survey tallied a total of 3,480 seafarers over a 12-month period and returned responses from seafarers representing 18 countries, 68 different nationalities, and eight languages.

Of those surveyed, at total of 8% had faced criminal charges; 4% had been witnesses in criminal prosecutions, while 33% knew of colleagues who had faced criminal charges. Meanwhile almost 24% of masters in the survey had faced criminal charges.

Of those seafarers who had faced criminal charges themselves, the survey found that 44% of seafarers reported that they were bodily searched; 87% who faced charges relating to the discharge of their professional duties said that they did not have legal representation; 91% of seafarers who needed interpretation services said that they were not provided with such services; and 89% of seafarers who had faced criminal charges said that they did not have their rights explained to them.

Seafarers were also specifically asked about their perceptions and found that 80% who had faced criminal charges felt intimidated or threatened. Concerning casualty inquiries and accident investigations, 46% of seafarers who answered the question said that they would be reluctant to cooperate fully and openly with such inquiries. Reasons expressed included: “The information that I would provide might be used against me”; “I would fear incriminating myself”; “Anything you say can be used as evidence against you”.

Overall, an overwhelming 81% of those who faced criminal charges did not consider that they had received fair treatment.

 

In addition to the survey, SRI carried out a review of all incidents involving criminal charges against seafarers reported by Lloyd’s List, TradeWinds and Fairplay, for a period ranging from 2000 to 2011. In total, SRI found there were 415 incidents reported involving 1,580 seafarers.

“The voices of seafarers are expressing real fears and concerns over criminal charges and it must be in the interests of the whole maritime industry that these are addressed and seafarers adequately protected,” said Deirdre Fitzpatrick, SRI Executive Director. “The prospect of criminal charges is daunting for any human being, whether in your own country – or even more so in a foreign country – and so for seafarers, entering foreign ports on a daily basis, the risks are high and the consequences can be dire if fair and due process is not followed.

“We hope that the results of this survey will provide momentum for increased efforts to ensure fair treatment of seafarers, whether innocent or guilty of a criminal charge, and that from this survey, the faces and the voices of the seafarers will be seen clearly and heard loudly”.

The Seafarers’ Right International says the full report of the survey will shortly be available on their website.

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