On Saturday 13 February 2021 at 04:48, Human Rights at Sea received a direct call for assistance from an engine cadet who had been seriously assaulted by a senior crew member on a container ship en-route to the Port of London. The male cadet was frightened, he did not know where to turn and was in fear of his life.
As this was deemed a potential threat to life by Human Rights at Sea, the NGO took immediate action contacting welfare organisations and ship managers. The charity received immediate support and engagement, with the incident being given priority by welfare staff as well as from the Director of Ship Management and the General Manager crewing.
Under the circumstances, the cadet was advised to immediately seek a place of safety and secure themselves while the Master was contacted.
The cadet’s personal safety was assured, welfare support immediately provided upon arrival in the UK, including medical attention ashore, and repatriation arranged through the managers.
The case flags serious issues to be brought into the public domain in support of cadets (and crew) at the start of their careers, noting that such incidents of abuse can define individual’s lives, their physical and mental health, well-being, personal relationships and careers.
- Speed of Action. Under circumstances when a report of an alleged threat to life is received by any organisation it requires immediate action. Delay and non-response because it is a weekend is unacceptable and could lead to greater and more dangerous levels of abuse towards the victim.
- Duty to assist. It is the duty of any recipient of a call for help to action a response and follow through to the end of the incident. A hand-off to other entities should not mean the end of engagement in the matter.
- Criminal actions. Assault, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm is a criminal offence. Such incidents need to be reported, perpetrators held to account and victims protected. This includes potential future victims should the perpetrator be allowed to continue in their role.
- Connected welfare systems. In this case, the welfare response system worked fluidly as direct contact mechanisms were in place, and phones and emails were answered.
- Cadet education & awareness. The cadet in question highlighted that he had not known to whom to turn, that he felt afraid to raise issues of harassment and when he had done so, he felt they were not treated with the gravity of the situation that he felt he was experiencing. He further highlighted that cadets should receive better awareness training of how to handle such incidents.
- Crew seniority is no excuse. The seniority of the perpetrator is no excuse for abusive actions to any crew member and established relationships between senior crew must not prevent the rigorous upholding of values and standards onboard.
- Culture and ‘rites of passage’: It is unacceptable to treat any form of abuse towards cadets (and junior crew) as part of a rite of passage. The argument that “it happened to me and it is part of the process” has no room onboard in today’s society.
- Transparency of employer actions. Employers have a direct legal and contractual responsibility to protect employees. Their responses to such incidents must be immediate, decisive and not ones which sweep the issue under the carpet. Lessons must be identified, remediation actioned, policies amended and safeguards reinforced through awareness, education and training.
- Long-term effects: If such precursor incidents are not addressed early in the career of a seafarer they will affect the individual, their personal and professional development and could, in some circumstances, reinforce a cycle of abuse if it is viewed as a ‘norm’.
The case is under an ongoing and independent HRAS investigation working with ship managers and welfare organisations to address the incident and the lessons identified in a transparent manner.