The merchant navy is a profession that is by far away from the need to have a permanent legal counsel for the benefit of the employees. And obviously, as the topic suggests, the ones in concern here are the ones working onboard (as opposed to the office). Professional life onboard is strictly work oriented with less to minimum chances to give rise to situations that might demand legal proceedings.
In general, the culture on ship is to solve matters within the periphery of the ship, amicably and respectfully. The Master is normally enough by himself to solve issues that require specific and serious attention. However, as with all workplaces, there sometimes arises a situation that just cannot be solved through the honor of a good handshake and an apology; sometimes, a seafarer has no option but to turn to full fledged authorities dedicated towards the disputes pertaining to the life in the merchant navy.
Such disputes may arise when the questions of remuneration, facilities onboard, repatriation or other such similar aspects cause dissatisfaction to the seafarer. Indeed, in an environment where work is worship, and one in which the seafarer toils to get his salary at the end of the month, issues that cause dissatisfaction to him ought to be heard, considered, debated and judged.
So where exactly is it that a seafarer turns to when in requirement of assistance? Which organisations are willing to extend a helping hand to a sailor in need? Read on.
1. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF): Founded in 1896, ITF is a global union of the variety of trade unions with respect to the transport associated with different industries (shipping, aviation etc.). ITF stands for the interest of the union workers associated with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Headquartered in London, it has offices at strategic locations across the world. Affiliation of unions to ITF enables the Organisation to negotiate the various interests and rights of the workers/seafarers. Help by the ITF is rendered irrespective of nationality and/or the flag of the seafarer’s vessel. Their contact details can be found here.
2. International Labor Organisation (ILO): The ILO is an arm of the United Nations (UN), which deals with international labor standards, and other labor related issues across the world. Established as a specialized agency of the UN in 1919, it sets forth regulations with regard to working conditions, wages as well as regulations that are put into force to ensure that the seafarers’ workplace standards are maintained and upheld. The ILO has been pivotal in the formation of the conventions such as the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC, 2006), Recruitment and Placement of Seafarers Convention (1996), Repatriation of Seafarers Convention (1987), Seafarers’ Identity Document Convention (2003) and many more. More information on the ILO can be found here.
3. The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI): Founded in 1834, SCI is a comprehensive agency, which provides a wide range of services for seafarers. Based out of North America, the SCI renders services with respect to a seafarer’s personal, professional as well as spiritual needs. These services spam the areas of education, pastoral care and legal help. Most important of them is the free legal aid service they provide exclusively to seafarers. The SCI is an organisation that values and acknowledges the immense importance of the work carried out by sailors and its critical support in shaping robust economies. More information can be found about them here.
4. International Seafarers Welfare And Assistance Network (ISWAN): ISWAN is a charity exclusively for the perusal of seafarers aimed at providing a free and confidential service to cater to the problems of an individual. Their service designated for rendering help is knows as SeafarerHelp. Assistance is available round the clock and throughout the year and includes assistance ranging from poor wages/working conditions, to just being able to talk to someone when in need. Find out more about ISWAN here and SeafarerHelp here.
5. Sailors Helpline: Founded in 2002, the Sailors Helpline is based out of Chennai, India. Its purpose is to serve the maritime fraternity of India with emergency social services. Confidentiality is of prime importance and all calls and emails in liaison with this organisation are kept completely private. It is an NGO and non-governmental in nature, attracting volunteers from the legal profession, the church and others involved in the industry. More information on them can be found here.
6. Apostleship of The Sea (AoS): AoS provides help, support and advice to seafarers at almost all of the major ports of in Great Britain and globally irrespective of their nationality. Volunteer ship visitors work in association with the local chaplains to be there for the seafarers in need. Founded in Glasgow in 1922, AoS also works in liaison with the ILO and ITF. Their contact information can be found here.
7. International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA): The ICMA works with 28 NGOs towards the welfare of seafarers. Founded in 1969, each of the 28 organisations, represented across various churches and other communities, retain their autonomy. Such extensive association enables a massive representation across the world. Their contact information can be found here.
8. Seafarers UK: This is a charity that provides funding to seafarers or their families in need. They work individually or give out grants to other welfare charities that tend to the needs of seafarers. Seafarers UK is also actively involved in fundraising and campaigning with regard increasing the awareness of the industry. Find out more about them here.
9. Centres For Seafarers: Centres for Seafarers is a not for profit charity company, originally partnership of the three international Christian Mission Societies, The Apostleship of the Sea, The Sailors Society and The Mission to Seafarers. They together work to provide welfare, comfort and shelter for seafarers visiting UK ports. Find out more about them here.
10. Seafarer Support: This Organisation serves the serving and retired seafarers of the Royal Marines, Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and fishermen (UK). They are comprehensive referral service, aiding seafarers belonging to the above-mentioned cadres. Options range from advice and financial help to career development.
Special Mentions: Other Important Maritime Organizations Working for the Welfare of Seafarers:
1. Sailors’ Society: An international charity based seafarer welfare society which was founded in 1818, based in the UK, offer support to seafarers and their families. Their details can be found here.
2. New England Seafarers Mission (NESM): Founded in the 1880s, this is an organisation under the church that looks after the needs of the seafarers transiting the area of New England (USA). Their details can be found here.
3. Maritime Piracy – Humanitarian Response Programme : MPHRP is a pan-industry alliance of ship owners, managers, manning agents, insurers and welfare associations, working together to assist seafarers and their families with the humanitarian aspects of a traumatic incident caused by a piracy attack, armed robbery or being taken hostage. Their details can be found here.
4. Marine Insight : We would take this opportunity to inform seafarers that though we might not be a full fledged charity organization, we strive hard everyday to address the most pressing problems of seafarers. Sometimes we might not be able to provide the right information or help required, but we do know who would surely be able to. Feel free to contact us anytime here.
Seafarers are generally tough individuals that normally restrict their problems to their own minds and hearts. Being in a job that demands thorough involvement automatically translates into high pressure and at times, a brewing dissatisfaction. It should be understood that it is not at all cowardly or unmanly to step forward and ask for help. If you seek assistance as a seafarers, don’t hesitate, Go ahead and contact one of these institutes immediately.
Over to you..
We have tried to mention all important institutes working for the welfare of seafarers. However if you know about any important organization that has not been added to this list, kindly let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.