When do deficiencies on ships cross the threshold from being a civil wrong to a criminal offence asks Apostleship of the Sea, AoS, port chaplain Reverend Roger Stone. He was speaking at a conference on Modern Slavery in Portsmouth on 10 February.
Stone, AoS port chaplain for the south coast ports in England, says he had seen deficiencies on board ships that clearly contravene health and safety regulations as well as the human and statutory rights of the crew. “This question is one that the shipping industry, port state authorities and law enforcement agencies must seriously consider when it comes to the welfare of seafarers,” he says.
Some examples Stone had come across during ship visits include galleys without food or drinking water, food unfit for human consumption, filthy shower and toilet areas, galleys with insect infestation, crew being forced to work without sufficient rest hours. Such conditions though rare in the UK are not insignificant.
Currently says Stone, port state authorities have the power to detain a ship for deficiencies.
“But surely there must be a point when what is a civil offence becomes a criminal one, especially in cases where abuse and modern slavery is suspected,” says Stone.
He adds, “It is therefore so important if someone sees something wrong, that they don’t keep it to themselves but share information with the authorities so that appropriate action can be taken without delay; so any deficiencies can be remedied and if there is anybody in trouble they can be helped immediately and not just put on a record or a database for next time.”
AoS works closely with Kevin Hyland, the UK Government’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and his office, to help seafarers suspected of being subjected to modern slavery. It has a presence in about 50 ports in the UK with 14 ports chaplains supporting seafarers’ welfare needs.
In 2015 AoS assisted 196,420 seafarers and visited 9,821 ships. This included 6,229 ships where seafarers were offered welfare assistance.