The daily beast
Jaisal Bhati “We were out of sight and out of our minds,” says second officer Jaisal Bhati. “Everyone has forgotten us (and) everyone has turned a blind eye.” Behind the scenes of the coronavirus pandemic, an invisible workforce of roughly a million seafarers continued to work on bulk carriers, oil tankers, fishing vessels, cruise lines and more. These people have traveled all over the world, many working seven days a week with no holidays or even sick leave, supplying medicines, grain, coal, fuel – and now vaccines. “They wanted our services, but they didn’t want us.” Even under normal circumstances, navigating the dangerous seas with limited personnel is a difficult and dangerous task. A normal cargo ship can only be manned by 20 people, each with specific tasks – a ship at sea, like an airplane in the air, requires constant attention, so you can’t just “dismantle tools” and leave it unattended without risking a disaster. In addition to their daily duties, every seafarer has emergency responsibility for fire, health, defense, whatever may come. There are no separate firefighters, doctors or police on board. It’s just the crew where every employee is essential and any delay is unthinkable. While many industries stalled due to the coronavirus, the global shipping industry did not. As the health crisis spread, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) agreed to allow two month contract extensions for seafarers in March and April and a “final implementation phase” in May 2020 to avoid disrupting international trade and to buy time Crew changes occurred when borders and airports were closed. But corporations and flag states took this show of grace and ran with it. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimated in December that up to 400,000 seafarers would remain on board merchant ships that can no longer be repatriated and whose contracts have expired. Bhati was one of them. Like so many people around the world, he was in protection at the start of the pandemic – except that his place was a ship. He was supposed to be returning home in late March on a five-month contract, but the global COVID-19 lockdown hit him by two weeks and closed any checkpoints that would have brought Bhati back to India. Many seafarers have now been on board for 18 months, stranded at their workplaces denied repatriation and banned from shore leave due to national regulations to contain the spread of the virus. This is far longer than the internationally recognized limit in regulation 2.4 (Vacation Entitlement) of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), which as of 2019 was ratified by 97 countries representing 91% of the global shipping industry, which states that seafarers are not allowed to work for more than 11 consecutive months and was just ignored. c / o Jaisal Bhati Like truckers and grocers, seafarers have turned up day in and day out doing ungrateful work to keep society going. The difference is that many of them were not allowed to go home. Some ships owned by smaller companies have been completely abandoned by their owners and haunted by their flag states – the country where a ship is registered and whose regulations it follows. In other cases, fatigue has undoubtedly contributed to the disaster: In July, the Japanese bulk carrier Wakashio, which was marked in Panama, ran aground on a coral reef off the Mauritian coast and spilled toxic heating oil into the ocean. It turns out that the ship was understaffed and at least three of the 20 crew members had extended contracts. These nightmarish conditions are possibly the inevitable result of the international nature of the maritime industry, with its port states, flag states, owner states and workers. Exporting states built to move the blame endlessly. Owners are responsible for looking after their seafarers and it is their duty to manage government bureaucracy and to cover any costs incurred in repatriation. Much of this process, however, depends on government cooperation. Despite working in international ports, seafarers must have a visa in order to be able to enter foreign soil and thus have access to airports. Even in the event of illness, seafarers were refused entry due to the lack of a visa. A Russian seafarer suffered a stroke on board and was not given immediate medical attention in Indonesia due to COVID-19 restrictions. In Uruguay, a Peruvian seafarer died on a Portuguese-flagged fishing vessel after showing symptoms of COVID-19 on board for 30 days. He was never brought in for treatment. In practice, it is simply impossible to apply for a visa in every country that has ports. Therefore, seafarers usually apply for those that match the countries on their shipping route. However, the pandemic turned this on its head as governments began closing airports and borders, canceling viable home routes in the process. In the meantime, embassies have been closed preventing seafarers from obtaining last-minute visas in the remaining ports. Some governments even refused to grant seafarers “key worker” status, which would have granted them special visa exemptions. Granting this status is a top priority for organizations like the ITF and the IMO: “Unfortunately, some governments, many of which simply do not understand our industry and do not want to, have found an incredible inflexibility,” says ITF Coordinator of the Department of Maritime and Inland Shipping Fabrizio Barcellona. “These governments refuse to accept that the globalized trading system they rely on to get people their toothpaste, shampoo, groceries and medical supplies relies on those people who have been treated like a rubber band and to the absolute limit stretched are snapshot. “You’ve been trapped on naval ships for months. Now you’ve died by suicide. To make matters even more difficult, a mandatory 14-day quarantine period put in place by governments to stop the spread of the virus requires perfectly choreographed crew changes to avoid delays that could force owners to cost expensive Keeping fees payable for their ships in port. An extra day could cost up to $ 100,000 – an amount most homeowners are unwilling to shell out. Instead, many crew members eagerly waiting to disembark in open ports had dashed their hopes when there were no quarantined crews ready to relieve them. “When it comes to money and human life, this whole industry prefers money over human sacrifice. Not just the industry, the countries, ”says Bhati. “When it comes to trade, forget about people.” But these people are kept in check as a threat that needs to be kept in check. Some governments are refusing entry to ships seeking medical assistance for COVID-19 cases, while other governments have refused to take back their own compatriots.Barcellona says, “In cases where ships have tried to change crew, Seafarers were accused of spreading the virus and blocked their ability to get ashore. This is true despite the basic human right of seafarers to go home after their contracts are signed. Forcing someone to work beyond the time they agreed to work is absolutely a matter of forced labor – it’s modern slavery. “Not surprisingly, morale collapsed under these conditions. An ITF survey of 1,434 seafarers conducted in December and shared exclusively with The Daily Beast found that a third of respondents had an unmet medical need, while more than four-fifths said their mental health and well-being was affected by the new conditions were negatively affected was all sorts of bad. Emotionally bogged down. Couldn’t go out, ”says Bhati. “Newborn child – can’t meet her. Parents died – couldn’t reach them. It was really bad, it’s still bad. In some cases, companies on board refused to provide disabilities or even sick pay, arguing that diseases caught by seafarers while they were at sea were not ‘work-related diseases’. Diseases are often attributed to the smoking habits, eating habits or the hygiene of seafarers. Jessie Braverman, a member of the Pacific Coast Coalition for Seafarers, described a number of issues reported by crews during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Some ships with few crews and crew members who were unable to depart were not given enough food or safe drinking water. Seafarers complained that meals were scarce because orders for food supplies were not made. Pacific Coast Seafarers’ Coalition A Facebook post in October described a situation where seafarers were forced to eat “seaweed for breakfast and bacon from 2017” and use “water from an old rusted water converter”. There was another case, Braverman told The Daily Beast, where “the only thing they had to eat was onions”. This was on top of the wage theft and abuse on board, which for the most part went unreported as it only exacerbated the pre-pandemic problems. Seafarers ate bacon from 2017 and did not properly store fish. Pacific Coastal Coalition for Seafarers Its specific chapter focuses on educating local people (in their case, Portland, Oregon) about the problems that are directly occurring in their ports, but is also part of a larger coalition that works with unions in the west coastal and advocacy organizations around the world. While reporting these abuses to unions and local inspectors, there are simply not enough of them to inspect every ship that regularly enters and exits port, and even then most seafarers are afraid to keep the records of ship abuse for fear of losing their job. Pacific Coast Coalition for Seafarers volunteers deliver care packages to seafarers. Justin Katigbak Being out at sea also meant intermittent internet access. Seafarers on ships with no cellular or internet connection relied on ports (or the goodwill of their shipping companies) to be able to communicate with maritime organizations for any kind of relief, let alone their families. Those left without the blessings of a reliable internet often missed major milestones, community tragedies and, in the event of a pandemic, even let their own families know that they would not get home as planned. Before the pandemic, Braverman had visited a ship that imported cars and felt like a “floating parking garage”. She noticed how the crew lived in small rooms with limited amounts of food. “It’s definitely not cozy,” she said. “It seems very difficult from my point of view – you literally live and sleep in your workplace on this really dangerous ship.” Cruise ship crews, also confined to cramped living quarters, found that adequate social distancing was impossible when the coronavirus spread. While passengers disembarked and quarantined according to coastal state medical standards, crews were often not tied to the same health standards. They had to deal with a virus with minimal medical knowledge, and if they weren’t given the correct visa, they weren’t usually even allowed to get off the ship for medical help. Pastor Marsh Drege, an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, is one of many members of the faith who serve in “maritime ministry.” The Maritime Ministry was rooted in centuries-old stereotypical views of seafarers as violent, wicked, impulsive, sinful people with the intention of promoting and spreading the Christian (or Catholic) religion. Today, that is no longer the primary purpose of maritime service – as port chaplains in North America sign memoranda promising not to preach – but their influence and presence has remained on the gangway: “We deal with spirituality, but we work equally with Muslims, Jews, Christians, ”and others, Drege explains that their main goal is to take care of the functional and individual needs of seafarers. “Our chaplains, our ministers of the sea, are there to listen to them, advise them and pray with them.” Now, the uncertainty of the pandemic has exacerbated the usual fears of seafarers exponentially. Although many felt compelled to work as their form of service for the good of the world at the onset of the pandemic, the lack of transparency about their future on board left many perturbed. While disappearances and deaths at sea are often unreported, a spate of suicides among seafarers – including six cruise workers in the month of May – highlights the dire effects of a depressed and hopeless crew in an endless crisis. Most recently, an Indian navigator trapped aboard MSC’s bulk carrier Anastasia off the coast of China attempted suicide after suffering on board eight months after his original contract expired, and his recent requests to return home have been turned down from the all over the world, at any time of the day, just to want to talk, ”says Drege. “It really increased during the pandemic … I spoke to a seafarer almost every day in August because they were in the Middle East and couldn’t get off the ship. They had nowhere to go. They were basically prisoners.” Pastor Marsh Drege with a seafarer at Marsh Drege’s Seafarers International House Relocated Faith-based organizations like Seafarers International House have long worked closely with unions and advocacy groups to provide assistance to seafarers, and when the coronavirus drastically limited the number of people who who interacted with each other in ports, chaplains were often the only relief bringing all practical items onto the gangway. ”Seafarers will make contact [our chaplains], usually via WhatsApp, and they will ask them to pick something up at a store, or they will order things online to the chaplain’s house, ”explains Drege. “One of our chaplains spent $ 20,000 a month buying things. He just trusts the sailors to pay him back. ”He remembers asking a chaplain,“ Do you ever get stiff? ”And being told,“ Never. It never happened. “That, Drege says,“ really shows the trust and relationships that exist between our chaplains and our seafarers. ”The reality of the pandemic has not only pushed Drege into finding ways to assist seafarers, but has also helped them Appreciating their situation, he said, “I’ve become more empathetic to what seafarers go through all the time – isolation and loneliness. We were all locked up, but we all know how it is now.” Since, as you know, they basically provide anything we can think of to live our lives, they have been almost completely ignored for even the most basic needs. Meanwhile, those involved in regulation and protection Nearly nothing done by seafarers: “Flag states and port states don’t really reinforce each other,” says Natasha Brown, the acting director in for media and communication of the IMO. A central theme is the infamous “Flag of Convenience” system. It is a US Prohibition-era business practice in which American-owned ships registered in Panama served alcohol to American patrons on American shores, claiming they were only required to obey the Panamanian rule of law. Though the ban ended, it did not wave to fly a flag of convenience. Instead of circumventing an alcohol ban, circumventing labor laws, tax requirements, and environmental regulations turned out to be too lucrative to give up. The benefits are great for flag states too. It is a steady source of income for poorer nations and gives them an “in” with wealthy corporate fleet owners. A 2014 report by UNCTAD shows that 73 percent of the world’s fleet flies a foreign flag, which means that the flag of the ship does not match the flag of the owner. Today, up to 60 percent of ships fly flags in countries where there are no citizenship or residency requirements for registration, so-called open registers. The practice gives extraordinary power to shipowners who dangle their fleet registration in exchange for loose, acceptable regulation. “Part of the problem is that the ‘flags’ popular with shipowners do not have the political or economic leverage to lobby on behalf of the ships they register or the workers on board,” said ITF Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith. “Large flag states make significant profits from their registers, but don’t have the strength or enforcement mechanisms to get their job done on violations.” While people like Bhati had their fate in the hands of negligent governments and inconvenient shipping companies, flag states like Panama and Liberia had no problem allowing contract extensions – despite the explicit limitation of uninterrupted work on board after 11 months – to 14 to 17 months, which led to outrage among trade unions and advocacy organizations. The ITF claims that “Flags of Convenience have given shipowners unsafe and unsustainable exemptions from important international regulations in the name of COVID-19.” they made by the shipowners, put before the lives of seafarers and their human rights, ”says Smith. Port states are not innocent either. Each country has its own docks and its port state control is responsible for enforcing maritime regulations and detaining ships that have clearly violated them. Inspections not only cover the technical aspects of a ship – whether the engine is working properly, the fuel meets environmental standards – but are also intended to question the quality of life on the ship and the working conditions of seafarers.The world did this, there would be no problems with overdue sailors, ”claims Bhati. But port states that are reluctant to spend resources, do paperwork or take responsibility for correcting violations committed on board have instead ignored the injustices in their ports. Their inaction sent the message loud and clear to many seafarers that owners and states would not be held accountable. The duty to do justice on board rests again with seafarers, who are severely disadvantaged compared to their employers and threaten their own livelihood if they speak up. Seafarers operate in a contract-based system where good, stable salaries mean, despite the harsh lifestyle and dangers involved in work and where the large labor pool makes it easy for employers to blacklist employers, more and more are standing Workers available as jobs. These are technically illegal, but as the current crisis has shown, the maritime industry is notoriously bad at enforcing its own rules. Few international seafarers belong to trade unions (although they may sail on unionized ships), and many fear the consequences of speaking out – that they will be cut off from their source of income and replaced by another willing and willing seaman quietly. “Contract employment means that no one has to explain to you why you weren’t selected for a new contract,” says Barcellona. “It is very difficult to prove that you were blacklisted for speaking out on a subject like health and safety or for asking the shipowner to change crew. How do you prove that you did not get a new contract? because you signed the last contract? ”Sailors at the dock of the port of NJ / NY with Christmas on sea bags. Port Chaplain Luisito Destreza This problem is particularly common in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, China, India, Ukraine, and Russia, which supply most of the world’s crews. There is an unspoken but diverse racial and economic hierarchy within the industry, with seafarers from western regions such as the United States and Scandinavia being the most prominent and protected by unions. Contracts usually run for four months for masters and senior officers, six months for intermediate level officers, and nine months or longer for normal and capable seafarers. For Filipinos in particular, seafaring jobs are one of the lowest rates averaging $ 1,000 per month – they pay much more for any nationality than most local jobs allow for. With approximately 250,000 Filipinos working at sea on any given day, they are the largest nationality employed in the industry and make up about 20 percent of the world’s seafarers. They also make up the highest proportion of seafarers who are not classified as officers and are therefore easily interchangeable. In the Philippines they call it “drafting contracts”. This is just another aspect of the Filipino government’s cheap work program launched by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and continued by every regime to date with Rodrigo Duterte who has sent Filipinos to all parts of the world serving as nurses, household helpers and Seafarers were trained to help. However, the underlying problem with this program is the inherent availability of labor, which is a constant threat to workers’ rights and the security of their employment. “Filipino [sailors] are afraid of losing their job, ”says Edwin Dela Cruz, President of the International Seafarers Action Center. “They are always contractual. Every time they go home they are unsure about the next time they will be hired again. It’s a buyer’s market. “Filipino cruise workers have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and were among the first to occur outside of China. They were often forced to keep working, despite coronavirus logs, while passengers were quarantined and had access to medical care. However, the fear of speaking out and losing their job largely outweighed the potentially fatal consequences of working in problematic conditions. Dela Cruz and his organization campaigned at the Philippine Congress to end the treaty of the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers legislation, but acknowledged that recognizing the rights of poor Filipino workers against wealthy corporate interests is an uphill battle , was monumentally happy. After four additional months on board, he and his crew members were finally replaced by a new crew and flown back to India on special charter flights last July. He was grateful to his employer for doing the right thing, but he knows that most people have not been shown the same treatment. What bothers him the most is the fact that protection for seafarers already exists – at least on paper. “You have all the laws, who will implement them?” he asks. “It’s a joke. They always find a way through it or find a way to override it. You don’t have it in your heart to get it done because of the money.” Bhati is understandably frustrated with unions like the ITF: “Unions are pro -Owners, pro managers, they are not pro seafarers. The ITF, when you are under contract, under a union, it is the union’s job to protect their people, seafarers, their job is for these times. This are the times we need them … Your response has been pathetic. “As part of a lengthy statement, Barcellona described the anger at shipowners for closed borders and tight flights and the anger at the ITF for lack of action as” anger misdirected “and said, that “much of the ITF’s most important work will not always be visible to our critics or to the seafarers themselves. This underscores how difficult its mission is. The ITF and our S Drivers ‘unions have done an exceptional job through this pandemic to fight for seafarers and their seafarers’ rights, ”explains Barcellona. “Together, our team has used the few resources we have to expose employers who have refused to perform crew changes and to pressure governments to take action. We pushed back employers who tried to cut the health and safety corners. We have prevented countries from further undermining safe maximum deadlines on board. We have helped thousands of seafarers get ashore and go home to their families. “Many, like Bhati, ask why the ITF didn’t just call for a strike? Barcellona claimed the strike was “not seafarers ‘endorsed nor conducive to seafarers’ pressure – actual decision-makers to influence” and that in an “incredibly precarious industry” it would have an impact on seafarers who have taken such a risk. ” Since then, seafarers have also put themselves in a legally dangerous situation on strike. Many countries have strict rules for strikes with severe penalties that must be paid by seafarers themselves. To complicate matters, seafarers should have considered the different jurisdictions that often apply before taking action. “Ultimately, any recourse and any form of relief to seafarers has been at the whim of shipowners and governments, always at extreme and detrimental risk on the part of seafarers. But many have shown extreme bravery in standing up for themselves and their fellow sailors. Yurii Babii is a 23-year-old electrical engineering officer from Ukraine who has been sailing on ships since he was 21. After the first two months of renewal, Babii decided to set foot on the start of a never-ending cycle in which his time on board would extend well beyond his original contract. Babii told The Daily Beast what he said to his superiors: “I will not do my duties; I’ll be like a passenger on the ship. “He admitted that his special skills and youth (or some might argue naively) gave him the confidence to speak for himself which others could not afford, sure he would find work again. He argued though also that there are quick actions that can help individual seafarers if they know how to push the right buttons. Babii remembers sending letters to the IMO and to one of the headquarters of his former shipping company MSC in Odessa. Yurii Babii rechts c / o Yurii Babii Er sagte: “Wenn Sie mir nicht helfen, werden neue Briefe in Ihrem Büro sein.” Nach zwei Monaten schaffte es Babii von seinem Schiff. Es gibt viele Geschichten wie die von Babii und Bhati, Einzelpersonen, die sich öffentlich für eine bessere Behandlung aller Seeleute einsetzen – aber in einer Belegschaft von über einer Million arbeiten noch mehr Geschichten von Seeleuten unter extremem Druck und ohne Zugang zu den R essourcen und Schutzmaßnahmen, die sie benötigen, um Missbräuche gegen sie auszurufen. Trotzdem erheben sich diese Seeleute gegen die Flut der Ungerechtigkeit und schließen sich so zusammen, wie sie es auf See müssen. Als ein philippinischer Seefahrer nach mangelnder medizinischer Versorgung auf See starb, sagten seine Besatzungsmitglieder vor dem philippinischen Kongress über ihre Widrigkeiten aus und bestätigten dies Oft sind es die Arbeiter selbst, die ihren Lebensunterhalt aufs Spiel setzen, um Fortschritte zu erzielen. „Die Regierung unternimmt nichts. Die Reeder tun nichts. Die Besatzungsmitglieder kennen nicht einmal die Probleme ihrer eigenen Besatzung “, erzählt Dela Cruz. “Es sind Seeleute selbst und Anwälte, die daran arbeiten, sich gegenseitig zu helfen und sich selbst zu helfen.” Read more at The Daily Beast. Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves deeper into the stories that matter to you. Learn more.