Up to a thousand ships flagged to the Cook Islands, Palau, Sierra Leone, and Togo will be targeted for safety, maintenance and seafarer welfare inspections across the Mediterranean Sea in the coming eight weeks by an army of inspectors from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), seafarers’ unions and port authorities.
“Substandard shipping in the Mediterranean Sea is driving down seafarers’ wages and conditions, its endangering the lives of crew and risking our environment,” said ITF Inspectorate Coordinator Steve Trowsdale.
“These flags take money from shipowners to register ships that other countries wouldn’t touch. Many are old vessels and are poorly-maintained by their owners. Many of these ships are dangerous and should not be trading,” he said.
The blitz comes off the back of new analysis showing the four Flags of Convenience registries together accounted for more than 100 crew abandoned in the last two years, with millions of dollars wages not paid to crew by the flags’ shipowners that the ITF then had to recover on seafarers’ behalf.
Trowsdale said often when the ITF or its affiliated unions called on the flags to fix problems caused by irresponsible shipowners, such as in cases of abandonment – “that’s when these flags are nowhere to be seen – they take the money and run.”
In just three years, the Cook Islands, Palau, Sierra Leone, and Togo flags were responsible for:
· 33 cases of crew abandonment, affecting more than a hundred seafarers, leaving many without pay, food, water, or a way to get home.
· Over $5,500,000 USD in unpaid wages cheated from crew, that the ITF then had to recover from the flags’ shipowners on seafarers’ behalf.
· 5,203 deficiencies or detentions issued by European Port State Control enforcement agencies.
The ITF inspectors’ efforts will be bolstered in France by the country’s Port State Control agencies, which are organised regionally, Trowsdale said.
They will be also targeting the four flags. A decision which makes sense given both the Paris and Tokyo MOUs have banned or cautioned against ships bearing the flags from being admitted to the ports of most countries in Europe and Asia-Pacific, respectively.
“These are now the worst flags operating in the Mediterranean Sea,” said SeddikBerrama, General Secretary of Algeria’s transport union FNTT and ITF Vice President for the Arab World region.