by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
I recently returned from a visit to Taiwan organized by the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the PCT Seamen’s/Fishermen’s Service Center in Kaohsiung (SFSC). I went to raise awareness of seafarers’ and fishers’ port welfare needs with government and industry leaders and explore ways in which non-governmental organizations can work with government and industry to provide seafarers’ welfare facilities and services.
The SFSC is a member of the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA), and its director, the Rev. John Chuang, and Treasurer Ivy Wu trained at the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI). John, Ivy and SFSC Chairwoman Hsiu-Chi Weng accompanied me throughout my visit.
My visit started with a seminar convened by Ambassador Rong-Chuan Wu, Director General of MOFA’s Department of NGO International. Attendees included high-level representatives from various MOFA departments, Prosecutors’ Offices, Fisheries Agency and SFSC. As ICMA Chairman, I explained the importance of merchant shipping and fishing to Taiwan’s prosperity and its importance in making seagoing careers attractive options for skilled people. I then briefed the seminar on how the 27 ICMA member organizations provide seafarers’ services at 526 centers in 126 countries, satisfying nations’ obligations to ensure seafarers’ welfare facilities exist in their ports. SFSC exemplifies the model of an NGO that provides seafarers with services domestically as well as internationally through membership in the ICMA network. Seminar discussions also included an update on the status of piracy off the coast of Somalia and how ICMA members are responding to piracy’s effects on seafarers, including SCI’s recently published clinical study report and work within the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program.
Taiwan Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Ying-Chih Chiang and his staff met with us to discuss conditions on Taiwanese fishing vessels. He explained that although advancements have been made on Taiwanese flagged fishing vessels, there remain many challenges in protecting seafarers on foreign flag fishing vessels. I suggested as a possible solution requiring foreign fishing vessels to meet Taiwan’s standards as a condition of entry into Taiwan ports.
The Rev. Andrew T.C. Chang, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, graciously briefed us on the denomination’s many social action programs, including schools, hospitals, environmental programs and, of course, the SFSC. As an expert on Taiwan tea, he gave a tutorial and demonstration on enjoying the best tea from Taiwan.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chu Chen formally welcomed me to her city. Mayor Chu Chen is a renowned human rights advocate very knowledgeable on maritime and seafarers’ rights issues. Under her leadership, Kaohsiung is a modern, well-run city. She pledged her support to enhancing seafarers’ welfare facilities in Kaohsiung.
Some of the other highlights of my visit included discussions with ITF and National Chinese Seamen’s Union leaders, discussions with Law of the Sea expert Professor Nien-Tsu Alfred Hu, meeting human rights advocate Legislator Bi-Khim Hsiao, touring the Port of Kaohsiung, being interviewed by TV and print media and getting to know SFSC’s wonderful staff and volunteers.
My visit to Kaohsiung also highlighted the contrasts that continue to exist in the maritime world. One morning I visited Jade Shipbuilding, a modern shipyard constructing luxurious mega-yachts for super-wealthy owners. In the afternoon I visited a squid fishing vessel that had just returned from fishing off the coast of South America. Its crew lived on board for two years without a vacation in deplorable conditions for very little pay. An ordinary fisherman earned $180 a month and an officer earned $400 a month.
I was astonished by the amazing transformation Taiwan has made in the twenty years since my last visit there. I am confident that similar advancements in seafarers’ welfare will be accomplished through the combined efforts of ICMA member organizations—especially SFSC and the Apostleship of the Sea— government and industry in Taiwan. Thanks to Ambassador Wu, MOFA Officer Christine Lin, Hsiu-Chi Weng, the Rev. John Chuang and Ivy Wu, seafarers’ and fishers’ welfare needs were raised to high levels, and hopefully high priorities, during my visit in Taiwan.