by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
In recent years, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) has developed and managed a seafarers’ environmental education program to protect the marine environment and, through preventative education, equip seafarers with information about US environmental laws. At the heart of the program, port chaplains educate seafarers about the importance of protecting the marine environment, the requirements of the United States’ marine pollution laws, seafarers’ duties to protect the marine environment and the consequences of not observing environmental laws. A grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (underwritten with plea agreement monies from shipowners convicted of environmental crimes) funded SCI’s education program, which the Institute developed in consultation with the US Coast Guard and the US Department of Justice.
SCI created educational materials with the help of Massachusetts Maritime Academy and prepared port chaplains to deliver the training through “train-the-trainers” workshops. The educational materials consist of pamphlets, interactive electronic guides and information on SCI’s website, an app for smartphones, a dedicated Twitter account and a PowerPoint presentation for shipowners to use with personnel. The grant provided participating seafarers’ agencies the ability to distribute the educational materials.
Originally limited to training to seafarers arriving in ports in Massachusetts and the Port of New York and New Jersey, SCI subsequently expanded the program. SCI conducted 15 “train-the-trainer” workshops in 15 different United States ports. At the end of last year, SCI had trained 203 environmental education program trainers (representing 41 different agencies operating in 33 US ports) and distributed 143,000 educational pamphlets to agencies participating in the program.
Training workshops were extremely well received, particularly in those ports where port chaplains had assisted crews on ships involved in environmental crimes prosecutions. The workshops increased communication and collaboration between seafarers’ centers and the US Coast Guard.
SCI armed workshop participants with contents from its website devoted to the seafarers’ environmental education program. Participants found particularly useful the videos and information translated into multiple languages. Many chaplains expressed enthusiasm for supplementing their ship visiting with the environmental training materials, believing they could help protect seafarers and the marine environment.