by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
During this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, Chaplain Karen Parsons from the Galveston Seafarers Center  visited ships in port. The seafarers on one ship had little to celebrate as they mourned the loss of one of their shipmates who had recently died of malaria after calling at a port in Africa. In addition, the crew had not received wages on board for more than three months. They were tired from cleaning the vessel’s holds and had not been paid the usual $300 bonus for this arduous task. Subsisting on reduced rations of the same meals every day, the crew also worried about sailing to Africa without sufficient anti-malaria pills or protections from mosquitoes.
Chaplain Karen contacted me for assistance with the crew’s complaints. After Karen told me that the ship was registered in Singapore, I verified its flag and other data—good news because the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) is in force in Singapore. The MLC, 2006 has robust enforcement provisions that require countries to investigate seafarers’ complaints of Convention violations. I then analyzed the crew’s complaints to determine if they amounted to MLC, 2006 deficiencies. Then, after getting the crew’s consent through Chaplain Karen, I contacted Singapore authorities (with whom I have a good working relationship) and asked them to investigate the allegations before the ship departed Texas for Africa.
Meanwhile, Chaplain Karen conducted a memorial service for the crew’s fallen shipmate, blessed the crewmembers’ cabins, provided cell phones and phone cards for the crew to call home, and delivered Christmas gifts of hygiene items, knit caps and socks. When she heard that the crew had not eaten dessert since June, she went home and baked cookies for them! She also counseled them on the legal advice I had provided.
The Singapore authorities responded immediately to my request, requiring the ship’s owner/manager to respond to each of the alleged deficiencies. By the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the shipowner confirmed that they had sent proper provisions, purchased anti-malaria medication and paid the crew their wages. Chaplain Karen confirmed with the now happy crew that their complaints had been addressed. As a precaution, she also alerted the port chaplain in the vessel’s next port of call to visit the crew.
This case demonstrated that port chaplains working together with the Center for Seafarers’ Rights and MLC, 2006 member nations can ensure that the MLC, 2006 is effectively implemented and enforced, fulfilling its promises of maintaining good seafarers’ working conditions and fair competition for decent shipowners.
And, for the crew of this particular ship, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving!